PARIS (Aug. 12)
The leader of France’s extreme right National Front Party has hurled racial and anti-Semitic insults at three public figures who said his party shared responsibility for the 1990 desecration of a Jewish cemetery in southern France.
Jean-Marie Le Pen’s remarks came shortly after four neo-Nazi skinheads confessed last week to the May 1990 desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the southern French town of Carpentras.
The four said they had desecrated 34 graves and disinterred the body of a Jewish man to pay tribute to Adolf Hitler and mark the anniversary of Germany’s surrender on May 8, 1945.
The four confessed after one of them turned himself in, saying that he wanted to make a new start in life.
Last week’s arrests of the four ended a highly publicized six-year investigation that had first targeted members of the extreme right, but then shifted to an investigation of children of town notables.
Shortly after last week’s arrests, Henri Hajdenberg, president of the Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, former Culture Minister Jack Lang and Fode Sylla, head of the anti-racist organization S.O.S Racism, said Le Pen was partly to blame for the desecration because his speeches repeatedly incited anti-Semitism and racial hatred.
But Le Pen, who has angered Jews here and abroad with his thinly veiled anti- Semitism, was quick to shoot back.
“Let us put aside the venomous insinuations of a few Jewish extremists like Messrs. Hajdenberg or Lang, or the rantings of the fat and crazy zebu Fode Sylla,” he told reporters.
A zebu is a kind of buffalo living in India and Africa. Sylla, who is black, is of heavy build.
“The National Front is a target, but is guilty of nothing,” Le Pen said, accusing the government of “political machinations” against his party.
Justice Minister Jacques Toubon has asked Paris’s public prosecutor to look into Le Pen’s remarks to decide whether legal action may be taken against him.
The cemetery desecration caused an outrage in France and sent 100,000 people, including then-president Francois Mitterrand, out onto the streets of Paris in a mass demonstration to voice their outrage.
Many of the protesters wore yellow stars like Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.
The four skinheads who confessed last week were all members or sympathizers of the French and European Nationalist Party, a tiny far-right party which became known in the 1980s in connection with bomb attacks on immigrant hostels and on a left-wing magazine.
A fifth member is said to have died in a motorcycle accident.
Sources said all five were detained at the start of the probe and then released without charges.
Last year, Le Pen lead his party in a march in Carpentras to demand that the state apologize for statements made by government ministers holding him accountable for the desecration.