Ethan B Katz writes: Marine Le Pen, the National Front party leader who is among the frontrunners in France’s upcoming presidential elections, made waves this month with her insistence that France was not responsible for the infamous “Vel d’Hiv” roundup of July 1942, in which French police chose to arrest more than 13,000 Jews and deport them to Auschwitz. Many were stunned by the comment. It not only contradicted decades of official presidential statements and consensus among historians, but also seemed to clash with Le Pen’s recent effort to court Jewish voters.
In fact, however, the only surprise here was that Jews were mentioned alone, rather than being paired with Muslims. For all Le Pen’s efforts to rebrand her party, she has reminded voters throughout this campaign season that the French far right remains wedded to a politics that has a special place for Jews and Muslims—as closely aligned racial “others.” Le Pen, like so many before her, regularly treats the two faith groups as sources of danger residing at the edges of the French nation, while also seeking to pit the one against the other.
Since becoming party head in 2011, Le Pen has gone to great lengths to give a facelift to the National Front, seeking to free it from the shadow of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the party and led it for 40 years. She has undertaken a delicate balancing act: to position the party, long associated with fascist tendencies, as within the mainstream of French republican and democratic values, while also maintaining the National Front’s longstanding far-right constituency. [Continue reading…]