(JTA) — France’s chief rabbi called Eric Zemmour, a Jewish journalist and far-right provocateur thought to be weighing a presidential bid, an antisemite.
Zemmour, who has called Muslim immigrants “invaders” and in 2016 said that most drug dealers are Arab or African, is now running second and ahead of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally Party, in some opinion polls ahead of next year’s election.
During an interview for France 2, Rabbi Haim Korsia was asked whether Zemmour, the son of Jewish immigrants from Algeria, is an antisemite.
After first asking his interviewer whether Zemmour is Jewish, Korsia replied: “Antisemite? Certainly. A racist? Definitely.”
The leaders of French Jewish institutions have expressed hostility toward Zemmour, who has endorsed a controversial reading of World War II history in which French Nazi collaborators allegedly sacrificed some Jews to save others.
But only Korsia has made the antisemitism allegation at Zemmour, whose wife and children are Jewish and who sometimes goes to synagogue while wearing a kippah.
Tribune Juive, a mainstream French-Jewish paper with many conservative readers, on Oct. 28 published an editorial that harshly criticized Korsia for labeling Zemmour an antisemite and rejected the charge as unfounded. That same op-ed, however, called some of Zemmour’s statements “disconcerting,” “abject,” “obsessive” and “pathologically nationalistic.”
“But how in the devil’s name to interpreted these nonsensical assertions by the chief rabbi,” the Tribune editorial read, “who has cast away all oratory caution and gone ahead to declare Zemmour an antisemite?”
A 2014 poll suggested that Le Pen, a far-right politician with views close to Zemmour’s, enjoys a 13.5% approval rate among Jews.
Korsia’s interview about Zemmour generated controversy also around a far-left presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Melenchon has a rich history of statements widely perceived as antisemitic. In an interview Thursday for BFMTV, Melenchon suggested both that he is not concerned about antisemitism and that Zemmour cannot be an antisemite because his politics are part of Jewish tradition.
“Zemmour isn’t necessarily antisemitic because he reproduces many cultural scenarios,” Melenchon said. “It’s all traditions tied to Judaism that, to its credit, have helped it survive through the ages.” Then he added that if Zemmour is antisemitic, “it’s really not my problem: Then he’ll be condemned for it. He’s a racist, that’s for sure.”
On Friday, following an outcry on social networks accusing Melenchon of a fresh expression of antisemitism, the far-left politician offered a rare retraction. “I am even willing to admit that I expressed myself poorly, because I opened up to interpretations that run contrary to what I wanted to say,” Melenchon wrote on Facebook.