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French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen on trial over Holocaust pun

Founder and former leader of France’s main far-right party faces allegations of inciting racial hatred over 2014 remark he made about French Jewish actor and singer

French founder of the far-right Front national party Jean-Marie Le Pen poses during a photo session at his home in Saint-Cloud, on January 14, 2021. (Joel Saget/AFP)
French founder of the far-right Front national party Jean-Marie Le Pen poses during a photo session at his home in Saint-Cloud, on January 14, 2021. (Joel Saget/AFP)

PARIS, France (AFP) — The 93-year-old founder of France’s main far-right party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, went on trial once again on Wednesday over allegations of inciting racial hatred, this time with comments targeting a Jewish pop singer.

He already has a string of hate speech convictions that eventually became too much for his daughter Marine Le Pen, who expelled him from the National Front’s leadership in 2015 in a bid to achieve mainstream respectability.

The senior Le Pen, however, has continued to relish the outrage prompted by his statements regarding Jews, Muslims, black people and immigrants.

The latest trial stems from a 2014 video on the party’s website, in which Le Pen railed against artists who denounced his extremist stances, including Madonna and French tennis star-turned-singer Yannick Noah.

Asked about the French singer and actor Patrick Bruel, Le Pen referred to his Jewish origins with a pun evoking the Holocaust — “I’m not surprised. Listen, next time we’ll do a whole oven batch!”

The taunt sparked a torrent of indignation including from leaders of his own party, with Marine Le Pen criticizing what she called a “political error.”

Jean-Marie Le Pen claimed the comments carried no anti-Semitic connotations “except for my political enemies or imbeciles.”

His defense team argued in court on Wednesday he had been speaking figuratively, but prosecutors said that there was nothing innocent about his words.

Judges said that they would deliver a verdict on October 29 following the one-day hearing where Le Pen — who did not appear in person — faced charges of inciting anti-Semitic hatred.

Challenges loom

The trial was delayed for years while Le Pen claimed immunity from prosecution as a Member of the European Parliament, a seat he won in 1984 and held until 2019.

But fellow lawmakers stripped his legal protections over the case in 2016.

Le Pen, his daughter and others from the party — now rebranded the National Rally — are also facing financial misconduct charges over subsidies earmarked for paying their European Union parliamentary aides.

Investigators say that members of the party used 6.8 million euros ($8 million) in public funds to finance party work in France.

Despite the troubles, Jean-Marie Le Pen remains a regular media presence and a lodestar for many on the far right who brush off his multiple hate speech convictions — not least his repeated insistence that the Nazi gas chambers were just a “detail” of history of World War II.

His shock success in the 2002 presidential election — getting to the run-off stage before being defeated by Jacques Chirac — sent the left-wing Socialists into the political wilderness and proved to his supporters that a rightward lurch in France was possible.

But a new conviction could complicate the bid by Marine Le Pen to take on Emmanuel Macron again for the presidency next year, especially after the National Rally failed to take control of any French region in elections last June.

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