PARIS (Dec. 17)
There is growing concern in Jewish circles here that right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen could be strengthened politically by his trial for anti-Semitic hate-mongering, because he may well be acquitted.
He would then become a martyr, a spokesman for the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism said Friday. He said Le Pen faces a single count of racist libel, which the court might consider insufficient to condemn him.
The Parliament of Europe voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 11 to suspend Le Pen’s immunity as a deputy, so that he could be brought to trial, most likely in February.
But the withdrawal of immunity applies only to the charge that he slandered the civil service minister, Michel Durafour, by making a pun on the last syllable of his surname that appeared to mock the crematoria used by the Nazis.
The court may not consider that serious enough grounds for conviction, the league’s spokesman said, in which case Le Pen and his National Front party would only benefit.
The party did unexpectedly well in recent special elections, where it ran racist, xenophobic campaigns aimed against Arab immigrants.
DECRIES JEWISH ‘DICTATORSHIP’
Le Pen, who has publicly claimed the Holocaust never occurred, is already playing the martyr. He told a radio interviewer here, “It seems as if there are certain citizens with more rights than others, and the difference between them is based on their attitude to the Jews.”
He denied he is anti-Semitic, but added, “I refuse to accept the dictatorship of certain refuse to accept the dictatorship of certain extreme-left Jewish extremists.”
During a television debate on Dec. 5, Le Pen badgered a Jewish Cabinet minister, Lionel Stoleru, about alleged dual loyalty by repeatedly asking if he held Israeli as well as French citizenship.
For Le Pen to be tried on additional counts would require another vote by the European Parliament to suspend his immunity.
That is not likely to happen. Although the Dec. 11 vote was 178-91, many deputies, including some of Le Pen’s most bitter foes, are reluctant to deprive a member of parliamentary immunity because of the precedent it would set.