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Behind the Headlines a Frightening Political Figure

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For many Jews and non-Jews in France and for countless Jews abroad, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of France’s extreme rightwing National Front, is the devil in human form.

He frightens everyone, or nearly everyone. The political establishment, both the left and the traditinal right, is frightened because he plucks votes indiscriminately from all parties. The trade unions are frightened because he seeks to break their influence. The immigrant workers are frightened because he wants to have them expelled.

Le Pen and his movement are a powerful new force on France’s political scene. The National Front garnered II percent of the popular vote in last summer’s national elections for the European Parliament and has been gaining electoral strength in various parts of the country. The Front managed to get 10 seats in the European Parliament as a result of the elections.

But no group is as frightened of Le Pen as most of France’s Jews. Nothing he can say or do has up till now alleviated their deep-seated conviction that an extreme rightwing movement is sooner or later fated to become anti-Semitic.

Le Pen himself, a jovial giant with a booming voice, has always been careful not to say anything which could be even vaguely interpreted as anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. He proclaims himself a friend of Israel, and a member of the Jewish community, a respectable businessman and former anti-Nazi resistance fighter, ran on his ticket.

FORMER SUPPORTERS NOW ‘HATE HIS GUTS’

On the other hand, many of the people who supported him in the past, in his long struggle for political recognition, were openly and often vehemently anti-Jewish. Le Pen has since broken with most of these early supporters who now, to use their own words, “hate his guts” and consider him a traitor who has “sold out to the Jews.”

Obtaining an interview for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was easy. Le Pen was actually delighted to grant it. “So many things have been written about me, so many lies spread, that I am glad to have the opportunity to explain myself, ” he said.

It is abvious that he cares what Jews in France and abroad think of him. He is aware that they wield a certain political influence but he also cares for personal reasons, he feels, at least this is what he says, that he has been “unfarily” treated and wants to set the record straight.

This reporter asked Le Pen point blank, as soon as we sat down to conduct the interview, if he was anti-Semitic. He did not appear to be troubled in the least, not even ill at ease. On the contrary, he burst out laughing, his huge frame shaking, and he said.

“At least I must say you don’t waste time beating round the bush. If anti-Semitism means hatred, persecution or even the slightest anti-Jewish discrimination, I am definitely not an anti-Semite and am violently opposed to anti-Semitism. If it means, however, that I have to like (artist Marc) Chagall’s paintings, support (the late French Premier Pierre) Mendes-France’s anti-colonial policies or approve of Simone Veil’s abortion laws, I plead guilty: I am against all three.

“I don’t want to be influenced in my political choices by the personality of the people involved. (President Valery) Giscard D’Estaing picked out Simone Veil, who was then completely unknow, and named her his Health Minister and pushed through Parliament his law legalizing abortion because she was a woman, because she was Jewish and had been deported to Auschwitz.

“It was a clever plan, but I am not forced to play according to the rules he has laid down. I attacked her policies then and I accused her and her backers, all those in favor of abortion, of wanting to carry out a genocide of France’s unborn babies.

WON’T ACCEPT CHARGE OF ANTI-SEMITISM

This accusation levelled at a woman who had known genocide at first hand in a Nazi concentration camp where she lost most of her family, struck most of France’s Jews as being in poor taste at the best and outrightly anti-Semitic at its worst. Le Pen does not accept this accusation.

“I have run against her during the municipal elections and again more recetly during the European ones. I shall probably run against her and her party again. I have attacked her as a political opponent and I shall do so again.

“I don’t want to know whether she is a man or a woman, white, Jewish and formerly deported. I take none of these factors into consideration and I think it would be unjust to be accused of anti-Semitism because of this. To put it frankly, it would be racism the other way around.

“Some people accused me with being anti-Semitic because I often clashed in Parliament with Mendes-France who was Prime Minister of France at the time when I was a young, 28 year old, Deputy. I attacked him not because he was Jewish but because he had signed the Geneva agreements which spelled out our abdication in Asia and provided for our withdrawal form Indochina.”

(Tomorrow: Part Two)

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