Le Pen’s Popularity Plummets

The popularity of Jean Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right-wing National Front, plummeted by 60 percent according to a poll published in Le Figaro Saturday, apparently in reaction to his public expression of doubt that the Nazi gas chambers ever existed and his denigration of the Holocaust as a “mere detail” in the history of World War II.

The poll, conducted by the highly reliable Sofres organization for Le Figaro, showed Le Pen’s favorable rating at 10 percent, down from 17 percent in the latest previous poll. Another poll, conducted by the weekly USD, found that only eight percent of the population wanted Le Pen to “play a political role in France,” compared to 12 percent in an earlier poll.

Prime Minister Jacques Chirac strongly condemned Le Pen’s remarks, which were broadcast in a Radio Luxembourg interview last month. It was “horrible to listen to such things,”said Chirac, the first French leader to speak out publicly on the matter. He urged French schools to continue to teach the history of World War II and the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Chirac’s condemnation of Le Pen Saturday indicated he has given up any plans he might have had for a political alliance with the National Front in the Presidential elections next spring. Observers here have speculated in recent weeks that Chirac and his center-right RPR party was undecided on the matter.

Public opinion polls have indicated that Chirac will need the vote of the extreme right if he is to carry the election. The other principal center-right Presidential hopeful, Raymond Barre, has not commented on Le Pen’s remarks. But in view of Chirac’s highly publicized statement, Barre, it is believed, will be forced to take a public stand.

Le Pen, for his part, shrugged off the poll findings. He accused the poll takers of bias and implied their findings were weighted against him.

Last Friday, the National Front’s 33 Deputies boycotted the ceremonial opening of the National Assembly which began with a minute of silence in honor of “all victims of the Nazi Holocaust.” The National Front said it acted in protest against accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against it by the Assembly’s President, Jacques Chaban Delmas.

The French Jewish community responded to Le Pen by crowding the synagogues for Yom Kippur services. Community spokesmen said every synagogue had standing room only and hundreds of worshippers had to follow the services from the sidewalks outside.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Ambassador to France, Ovadia Soffer, commented on reports that Le Pen wants to visit Israel. In an interview with Le Figaro, Soffer said, “Israel is a free and democratic country and if he wants to visit he will not be denied entry but no one, no one in official circles, will agree to meet with him.”

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