Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday rebuked French President Emmanuel Macron for praising a victorious World War I general who subsequently collaborated with the Nazis in World War II.
Marshal Philippe Petain was complicit in the 1942 deportation of 13,000 Jews from France in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup that was part of the Holocaust.
“Marshal Petain sanctioned and facilitated the expulsion and mass-murder of Jews,” Bennett said in a statement. “It is unacceptable to suggest that previous deeds mitigate such atrocities.
“I would urge President Macron not to offer excuse or defense for the Nazis and their supporters – in the past, present, or future,” Bennett advised.
Petain led the French army to victory in Verdun in 1916, but gained infamy and a conviction for treason for his actions as leader of Vichy France in 1940 to 1944.
Petain’s name appears alongside seven other top military chiefs to be honored this Saturday in a ceremony at the Invalides monument, site of Napoleon’s tomb, to mark the centenary of the end of World War 1.
Touring battlefields ahead of a formal commemoration of the November 11, 1918, armistice that ended the war, Macron said Wednesday that Petain was worthy of the honor for his leading role in the World War I victory.
“Marshal Petain was also a great soldier during World War I” even though he made “fatal choices during the Second World War,” Macron said in the northern town of Charleville-Mezieres.
“I pardon nothing, but I erase nothing of our history,” Macron added.
The stop was part of a week-long tour that included Verdun, which Petain defended against a German onslaught.
His comments drew criticism from council representing the Jewish institutions of France (CRIF), which called Macron’s remarks “shocking” and “an insult.”
“The only thing we will remember from Petain is that he was, in the name of the French people, struck with national indignity during his trial in July 45,” said the president of CRIF, Francis Kalifat, in a statement Wednesday.
The French presidency later said that only the five top military chiefs who are interred in the Invalides will be individually honored and have their names cited in the ceremony — not including Petain.
Macron will not attend the military ceremony.