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French Mayor Blocks Honor for Jewish Writer at Book Fair

November 27, 1996
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The right-wing mayor of the southern French town of Toulon has created an uproar by refusing to honor Jewish writer Marek Halter at the local book fair.

Mayor Jean-Marie Le Chevallier of the National Front Party last week rejected fair organizers’ recommendation that Marek be honored with a literary prize at the three-day fair.

Chevallier, who called the fair a “celebration of the liberty of books,” dismissed the recommendation to honor Halter as “inopportune.”

Chevallier said fair organizers were attempting to embarrass the National Front.

Instead, he said the award should be presented to former actress Bridget Bardot, whose memoirs have topped the French best-seller lists for months.

In the wake of widespread criticisms of Chevallier, Bardot did not attend last Friday’s award ceremony.

The criticisms also prompted numerous participants to absent themselves from the fair. A parallel fair was held in a nearby village.

Bardot’s husband, Bernard D’Ormale, is a member of the National Front, which espouses a nationalist, anti-immigrant agenda.

The party’s leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has frequently made anti-Semitic and racist statements, and Chevallier is regarded as a close friend and confidant of his.

Chevallier’s denial of the award to Halter prompted a fresh round of accusations that the Front is anti-Semitic.

At a meeting last Friday to discuss the issue, Halter was joined by French Culture Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, other culture ministers and several leading writers.

Halter, whose family escaped the Warsaw ghetto in 1941, told reporters that this was the first time he had felt unwelcome as a Jew in France.

Douste-Blazy said the National Front was engaged in a “general offensive” against culture and called for a fight against the party “without mercy, without respite, without compromise.”

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