Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally (RN) party, formerly known as the National Front, told French radio RTL on Wednesday morning that she would “of course” participate in Sunday’s protest against anti-Semitism in Paris. . On X, formerly Twitter, she wrote: “Our Jewish compatriots have long been confronted with an ideology that I have always fought: Islamist ideology.” She specified that she would be there, alongside the president of the RN party Jordan Bardella and other elected officials of the party.

However, the president of the French National Assembly Yaël Braun-Pivet, who along with the president of the French Senate called for the march – and whose Jewish grandparents settled in France after fleeing Germany and Poland – declared on Wednesday on the French channel TF1 that no political party had been invited to participate and that she would not march “next to” Le Pen.

The French RN and its history of anti-Semitism

Opponents of marching alongside the RN in a demonstration against anti-Semitism reminded those who might have forgotten of the party’s founding. In 1973, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, who fought in the Algerian War, founded the party with former paratroopers, supporters of the Vichy regime, anti-Semites and also members of the violent student organization far-right Union Defense Group (GUD). .

On several occasions, Jean-Marie Le Pen was fined for having mentioned the Shoah and the German gas chambers as a “detail” of History. Government spokesperson Olivier Véran declared on French radio Europe1 that “French justice” had “condemned Jean-Marie Le Pen for anti-Semitism” and that for this reason, the RN did not have “its place” at the demonstration.

Fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in France

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The RN has a clearly pro-Israeli position

In recent weeks, Marine Le Pen has left the public in no doubt about her side in the current conflict in the Middle East. She called Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack on Israel a “pogrom” and supported the Israeli government’s goal of destroying Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by many countries.

The party’s pro-Israeli stance is not new. After Marine Le Pen replaced her father as leader of the Front National in 2011, she expelled known anti-Semites from the party, and eventually even Jean-Marie himself. Her “de-demonization” strategy aimed to make the party, which she renamed in 2018, more acceptable to broad sections of the electorate and this strategy apparently worked, as Le Pen was able to increase her vote share by 2018. presidential elections. According to the latest polls, she would win the first round of the presidential election with more than 30% if it took place today.

Not everyone supports the party’s change of image. “For me, Le Pen’s participation in this demonstration is strategically motivated,” said Valérie Dubslaff, of the University of Rennes. “I don’t believe the party has fundamentally changed. The proximity to Israel and the fight against anti-Semitism serve to send a clear message: ‘Our main enemy remains Islam.'”

Indeed, contradictory statements were made by representatives of the RN. Bardella recently refused to call Jean-Marie Le Pen an anti-Semite, but was apparently forced to correct himself under pressure from Marine Le Pen herself.

The founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was fined several times for anti-SemitismImage: Arnaud Journois/Le Parisien/photo alliance

Support for Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld

Le Pen’s change of course also has an impact on France’s Jewish citizens. Today, after decades of hostility between the Jewish community and the far right, a change has occurred. Last year, Louis Aliot, RN mayor of Perpignan, was the first far-right politician to appear on Radio J, a Jewish community radio station in Paris. A few days earlier, he had presented a city medal to Serge Klarsfeld, an 88-year-old Jewish activist and Nazi hunter.

Many did not understand at the time why Klarsfeld accepted the medal.

The founder and president of the Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees of France said he supported Le Pen’s participation in the upcoming demonstration against anti-Semitism. “For me, the DNA of the far right is anti-Semitism,” he told the French daily. Release. “So, when I see a major party from the extreme right abandoning anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and moving towards republican values, I rejoice.”

Is Le Pen exploiting the march?

The Council of Jewish Institutions of France (Crif) also adjusted its position. When Marine Le Pen appeared at a march to commemorate the anti-Semitic murder of Mireille Knoll in 2018, she was booed. There was no such outrage when RN politicians appeared at a recent demonstration organized by Crif in support of Israel.

Crif organized a march on October 9 to call on Hamas to release Israeli hostagesImage: Jeremy Paoloni/abaca/photo alliance

Crif, however, indicated that the RN would not be welcome at Sunday’s march. Its president, Yonathan Arfi, accused the far-right party of trying to “instrumentalize the march in an indecent manner” and declared that the Crif had opposed marching alongside “people heirs of a party founded by former collaborators.

The socialist, communist and green parties declared that they wanted to establish a republican “sanitary cordon” during the demonstration and not allow the RN to adopt it. Meanwhile, the left-wing party La France Insoumise (LFI) categorically refuses to participate in the demonstration. “Friends of unconditional support for the massacre have a meeting,” LFI leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon wrote on X, referring to Israel’s war against Hamas. He has not yet clearly condemned the Hamas attack of October 7.

Limits of the “firewall” against ranged combat

For Jacob Ross, a researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations who focuses on Franco-German relations, the current debate shows the limits of the so-called “firewall” against the far right in France. According to him, the number of RN mayors in France indicates that the idea has already been abandoned at the municipal level and that it could soon be abandoned at the national level as well.

Ross said recent studies show voters were starting to tire of the “Republican bloc,” as the alliance of parties against the RN is called. Furthermore, he indicated that the RN was gaining more support from the conservative LR party at the parliamentary level. Finally, he added, French voters simply no longer want to be told who they can or cannot vote for.

This article was originally published in German.

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