How Marine Le Pen relies on dividing French Jews and Muslims

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…]

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité, racisme?

Ursula Lindsey writes: France will head to the polls at the end of April to elect a new president. With the country still shaken by recent terrorist attacks, and the rise of a far-right candidate who has campaigned on fear of Muslims and immigrants, public discourse has been dominated by a concern with Islam and radicalization.

The often acrimonious discussion has widened a rift among many public intellectuals and scholars, including those you might expect to be allies. The argument: whether the more serious threat to liberal values in France is the alleged Islamization of the country or the discrimination that many Muslims there face.

Georges Bensoussan, a historian and chief editor of the Shoah History Review, is a divisive figure in the debate. In October 2015, Bensoussan said during a radio show that “today we are in the presence of another people within the French nation, who are making a certain number of our democratic values regress. … There will be no integration until we rid ourselves of this atavistic anti-Semitism that is kept quiet as a secret. A courageous Algerian sociologist, Smaïn Laacher has said … that it’s shameful to maintain this taboo, which is that in Arab families in France, one suckles anti-Semitism like mother’s milk.”

Laacher, who is French of Algerian origin, teaches at the University of Strasbourg. He has said he was misquoted. Bensoussan’s remarks triggered a lawsuit by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) and other human-rights associations for “incitement to racism.” He was acquitted in March, but the plaintiffs have filed an appeal. [Continue reading…]

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U.S., France, Britain propose UN resolution on Syria gas attack

Reuters reports: The United States, Britain and France on Tuesday proposed a United Nations Security Council resolution to condemn a suspected deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria, which diplomats said would likely be put to a vote on Wednesday.

The three countries blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for the attack, which killed dozens of people. The Syrian military denied responsibility and said it would never use chemical weapons.

U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura said the “horrific” chemical attack had come from the air.

The draft text, seen by Reuters, says Syria’s government must provide an international investigation with flight plans and logs for Tuesday, the names of all helicopter squadron commanders and provide access to air bases where investigators believe attacks using chemicals may have been launched.

It asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report monthly on whether the Syrian government is cooperating with an international investigation and a fact-finding mission into chemical weapons use in Syria.

The draft resolution “expresses its outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, and expresses its determination that those responsible must be held accountable.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian notes: Tuesday’s strike came days after the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said the Trump administration was no longer prioritising the removal of Assad, and that the Syrian people would ultimately decide his fate.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made similar comments on Monday, affirming a shift in US policy that began under the Obama administration.

Critics of the stance have said that the absence of a credible threat has given the regime licence to commit war crimes with impunity as its backers, Iran and Russia, steadily claw back years of battlefield losses. [Continue reading…]

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Marine Le Pen’s tricky alliance with Donald Trump

The Washington Post reports: In the early hours of Nov. 9, Marine Le Pen was the first foreign politician to congratulate the new U.S. president-elect.

In the weeks that followed, the leader of France’s far-right National Front did everything she could to tie her presidential campaign to the upset victory of Donald Trump, claiming that she would be the next chapter in a global populist revolt against the “establishment.”

On the morning after the U.S. election, she took to the stage at her party’s headquarters outside Paris, heralding Brexit and Trump as part of an unstoppable worldwide phenomenon — “democratic choices that bury the old order and steppingstones to building tomorrow’s world.”

But a month before the first round of the French elections, Le Pen’s tone has markedly changed: no more President Trump — at least not for now. [Continue reading…]

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Putin picks Le Pen to rule France

The Daily Beast reports: Russian interference in the American elections last year was downright subtle compared to what we’ve seen this week in the run-up to French presidential elections.

The two-round vote on April 23 and May 7 could change politics, defense, and the economy in Europe more radically—and more in Russia’s favor—even than the chaos spawned by Donald Trump’s iffy triumph in the United States.

And on Friday, Putin endorsed his candidate: far-right-wing, anti-European-Union, anti-NATO, anti-immigrant, anti-American, pro-Trump candidate Marine Le Pen.

Of course, Putin said, “We don’t want to influence in any way the events going on [in France],” but his government received Le Pen as if she already were settled in as the head of state in Paris.

Olga Bychkova, deputy chief editor of the independent radio station Echo of Moscow, said that the reception accorded Le Pen in Russia was impressive. “She first had meetings with the leaders of the Duma [Russia’s parliament], then she was taken to an exhibit devoted to France at the Kremlin, then she met with Putin. That is a kind of program Moscow organizes for state leaders,” Bychkova said. [Continue reading…]

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Stopping the advance of the right-wing populists

In an editorial for Der Spiegel, Ullrich Fichtner writes: Populists like to claim that they alone have the courage to tell the truth. That only they are bold enough to say what the aloof elite and the politically correct mainstream deliberately hold back. The result are truths such as Mexicans are rapists and North Africans are gropers. And that no upstanding German wants a neighbor with dark skin. And more such nonsense.

Convicted racist Geert Wilders sought to win the Dutch election last week with the truth that Moroccans are “scum.” And now those who don’t share Wilders’ view are relieved that only 13 percent of voters agree with him.

But while Wilders’ election defeat may be pleasing, it is still too early to sound the all-clear. This election too delivered plenty of evidence that right-wing populists dominate the public debate.

As things currently stand, the multimedia circus frequently delivers absurdly distorted images of political reality, particularly here in Europe. In the weeks leading up to the Dutch election, a Geert Wilders festival was celebrated in print, radio, television and internet outlets, almost as though the other 27 parties participating in the Dutch vote didn’t even exist. The same can currently be said of France, where the press makes it seem as though only Marine Le Pen’s ideas are up for debate. And there is hardly an article about Italian politics that doesn’t include images of the slobbering populist Beppo Grillo. Here in Germany, entire media seminars could be held focusing on the hysterical attention being paid to the ups and downs of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The dual shock of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election may have magnified the tendency to exaggerate the ugly. In both cases, the inability to see what was coming increased the media’s self-doubt, shook the political classes and unsettled entire societies. But it would be a cardinal error to conclude from Brexit and Trump that the theories and tirades of right-wing troublemakers automatically represent the “voice of the people” and are thus the expression of justifiable concerns. [Continue reading…]

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The vote that could wreck the European Union

An editorial in The Economist says: It has been many years since France last had a revolution, or even a serious attempt at reform. Stagnation, both political and economic, has been the hallmark of a country where little has changed for decades, even as power has rotated between the established parties of left and right.

Until now. This year’s presidential election, the most exciting in living memory, promises an upheaval. The Socialist and Republican parties, which have held power since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, could be eliminated in the first round of a presidential ballot on April 23rd. French voters may face a choice between two insurgent candidates: Marine Le Pen, the charismatic leader of the National Front, and Emmanuel Macron, the upstart leader of a liberal movement, En Marche! (On the Move!), which he founded only last year.

The implications of these insurgencies are hard to exaggerate. They are the clearest example yet of a global trend: that the old divide between left and right is growing less important than a new one between open and closed. The resulting realignment will have reverberations far beyond France’s borders. It could revitalise the European Union, or wreck it.

The revolution’s proximate cause is voters’ fury at the uselessness and self-dealing of their ruling class. [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s not-so-hot Euro-election subversion strategy is failing in France

Christopher Dickey writes: If Vladimir Putin’s keyboard commandos are hoping to hack up French presidential elections the way they did America’s, they are, well, a little off their game. And their more-than-willing tool, Julian Assange, the Australian anarchist who brought us WikiLeaks, appears to be getting a little antsy.

It’s been a week or so since Assange announced he had pirated cables and emails about the three most prominent candidates, but nobody in France paid much—or any—attention. The cables were old, had been well sifted in the past, and there were other much bigger, fresher, and sexier scandals emerging from more conventional sources.

So Russia’s state-subsidized news sites tried to give Assange a boost. Sputnik, straining to write something entertaining about such a non-story, cobbled together a piece on Feb. 2 from various Twitter feeds mocking those who suggested the latest WikiLeaks announcement was part of a Russian democracy-disrupting conspiracy like the alleged one that made U.S. President Donald Trump’s election resemble a bad serialized version of The Manchurian Candidate.

“WikiLeaks vs. French Presidential Hopefuls: Who is the real ‘Kremlin Agent’?” read the headline. The conclusion, of course, none of the above.

But in the days since, it’s begun to look more and more as if Assange, at least, wants rather desperately to sway the elections, which are now three months away, and he’s doing his best to focus his leaks on the candidates most likely to face far-right-wing populist nationalist Marine Le Pen in the final showdown for the French presidency. [Continue reading…]

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The man who could make Marine Le Pen president of France

Angelique Chrisafis writes: On the night of the US election, Florian Philippot, the closest adviser to the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, was watching the results from his apartment on the Left Bank in Paris. Before dawn, when Donald Trump’s victory was not yet official but the liberal establishment was beginning to panic, he tweeted: “Their world is crumbling. Ours is being built.”

Around 8am, Philippot phoned Le Pen to discuss the good news. She was in a jubilant mood at the headquarters of her party – the nationalist, anti-immigration Front National – preparing to deliver a speech congratulating Trump. His victory, on promises of trade protectionism and the closing of borders, looked like a major boost to her presidential campaign. Meanwhile, a car arrived to take Philippot, the party’s vice-president, to the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 250km from Paris, to lay a wreath at the tomb of France’s great postwar leader, General Charles de Gaulle.

Trump’s victory happened to coincide with the anniversary of the death of de Gaulle, who led the French resistance against Nazi Germany. Philippot idolises de Gaulle: his office, which adjoins Le Pen’s, is plastered with de Gaulle memorabilia – one of many things that sets him apart as an oddity in a party that has long regarded de Gaulle as a traitor for allowing the former French colony of Algeria its independence.

Philippot’s elite credentials should have been another strike against him within a party that proclaims its loathing of the establishment. A graduate of the exclusive Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which produces presidents and prime ministers, Philippot didn’t start out in the Front National in the traditional way – driving around the countryside sticking election posters to fences. Philippot is also gay, in a party whose co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen once called homosexuality “a biological and social anomaly”. And yet, at 35, he has become the voice of the party, its media star, and the first to claim Trump’s victory as a sign of a new world order. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s relations with Putin warm unlike those with European leaders

The New York Times reports: President Trump began a new era of diplomacy with Russia on Saturday as he and President Vladimir V. Putin conducted an hourlong telephone call, and vowed to repair relations between the countries after nearly three years of conflict that threatened a new Cold War between East and West.

The two leaders discussed fighting terrorism and expanding economic ties, but barely mentioned the wedge that has been driven between Washington and Moscow since Russia annexed Crimea and sponsored a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Still, although Mr. Trump had previously expressed a willingness to lift sanctions against Russia, the issue did not come up, according to officials on both sides.

The tone of the conversation was reported to be warm, indicating a drastic shift after relations had broken down between Mr. Putin and former President Barack Obama. “The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” the Trump administration said in a statement. “Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today’s call, the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”

In its statement, the Kremlin said: “Donald Trump asked to convey a desire for happiness and prosperity for the Russian people, noting that the people in America relate with sympathy to Russia and its citizens.” Mr. Putin answered that Russians feel the same way about Americans, the statement said. Neither side mentioned the Russian hacking of the American election in their statements.

Over the past two days, Mr. Trump has also had a series of conversations with the United States’ traditional European allies, but those calls were seemingly not as congenial. After a meeting on Friday with Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, in which she warned against removing sanctions on Russia, Mr. Trump had on Saturday what appeared to be a businesslike call with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and a testier call with President François Hollande of France.

Mr. Hollande’s office said the French president pressed Mr. Trump not to lift sanctions against Russia and to respect the nuclear agreement with Iran. He asserted the importance of the Paris climate change pact, warned of the consequences of protectionism, and added that democratic values included welcoming refugees — all in reaction to Mr. Trump’s first week of policy moves. Mr. Hollande also emphasized the importance of NATO and the United Nations, both of which Mr. Trump has disparaged. [Continue reading…]

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Russia is targetting French, Dutch and German elections with fake news, EU task force warns

The Telegraph reports: Russia is seeking to influence the outcome of several key elections in European countries this year with fake news, a special task force set up by the European Union has warned.

The EU is reportedly allocating more funds to its East StratCom task force to counter the disinformation, amid fears Russia will target elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands

“There is an enormous, far-reaching, at least partly organized, disinformation campaign against the EU, its politicians and its principles,” a source close to the task force told Germany’s Spiegel magazine.

It is “highly likely” Russia will try to influence European elections “as it did in the US”, the source said.

The number one target is Angela Merkel, who has been subjected to a “bombardment” of fake news over her refugee policy and support for economic sanctions against Russia.

Disinformation is “part of state policy” and a “military tool” for the Kremlin”. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s far-right leaders unite at dawn of the Trump era

Time reports: After a few weeks of reading online about Donald Trump’s transition to the presidency, Marco Kopping, a 36-year-old apprentice at a car-parts supplier near Frankfurt, decided to get involved in German politics. He had never sympathized with a political party before, let alone joined one. But in December he received his glossy membership card from Alternative for Germany (AfD), one of the far-right movements now riding the updraft from Trump’s ascent. What drove him, Kopping says, “was the feeling of a revolution.” He didn’t want to be left behind.

Across the European Union, politicians on the right-wing fringe have been invigorated by Trump’s victory, which has given them a chance to attract new supporters, build coalitions and argue that, despite the often-glaring differences between them, they are all part of a movement with seemingly unstoppable momentum.

The most striking proof yet of that movement came on Saturday in the cross-section of far-right populists who met for the first time, at the AfD’s invitation, at a convention in the German city of Koblenz. A day after Trump’s Inauguration, the stars of the European right drew a direct line between Trump’s success at the ballot box and their own looming electoral battles. [Continue reading…]

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Watch out, Europe. Germany is top of Russian hackers’ list

Natalie Nougayrède writes: One year ago in Berlin, Lisa F, a 13-year-old German-Russian girl, disappeared for 30 hours. When she returned to her parents, she claimed she had been kidnapped and raped by “Arab” men. This was a lie – as she later admitted. She had fallen out with her parents and invented the whole story. But that did little to stop the episode from becoming the centrepiece of a whirlwind Russian disinformation campaign aimed at destabilising Angela Merkel and German institutions.

Russian state media and pro-Russian websites in Germany immediately swirled with reports. Merkel was already under pressure for her open-door policy on refugees. Now German far-right groups and representatives of Germany’s ethnic Russian community held demonstrations. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, described Lisa (a dual German-Russian citizen) as “our girl” and accused German authorities of a cover-up and “whitewashing reality to make it politically correct”.

A diplomatic spat ensued, with the German foreign minister accusing Russia of “political propaganda”. Berlin officials struggled to counter the Russian campaign. But Moscow’s overt meddling in Germany’s domestic politics seeped into the public consciousness – for a while, at least.

Fast-forward to January 2017. The fallout from the Trump-Russia dossier has now placed Vladimir Putin and his power structure at the centre of American politics. For Europeans, a question arises: what could this all mean for the old continent, as it approaches key elections? This year, voting will take place in France, the Netherlands and in Germany. Remembering the Lisa scandal is important, for it says something about what may lie ahead.

Now that Russia’s covert activities are being so intensely discussed in the US, it is high time Europe placed as much attention on what it might, in turn, be confronted with – and to prepare itself. [Continue reading…]

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At Paris meeting, major powers to warn Trump over Middle East peace

Reuters reports: Major powers will send a message to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday that a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is the only way forward, and warn that his plan to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could derail peace efforts.

Some 70 countries, including key European and Arab states as well as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are due in Paris for a meeting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected as “futile” and “rigged”. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be represented.

But, just five days before Trump is sworn in, the conference provides a platform for countries to send a strong signal to the future American leader. [Continue reading…]

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In Paris, the world will try one more time to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict

The Washington Post reports: Poor, belittled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pulled off a remarkable feat.

On Sunday, top diplomats from as many as 70 nations are gathering in Paris to show their support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Abbas hasn’t won his people a sovereign nation. Not even close.

But with all the challenges facing the world, the international community has accepted the invitation of French President François Hollande to come together again and urge Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hammer out a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict. [Continue reading…]

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France’s far right is wary of Trump, but head-over-heels for Putin

Christopher Dickey reports: Marine Le Pen, 48, who could very possibly be the next president of France, speaks positively but with a certain reserve about U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump. It’s the kind of hesitation one hears when someone talks about a potential ally or partner who might, just might, be crazy. Because Trump does give that impression in Europe and, whatever one might say about her, Le Pen does not.

So, for all the general approbation she’s expressed about Trump’s election, and all the nice things Trump counselor Stephen Bannon has said about her Front National party, and especially about her comely young niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (“Europe’s New Rock Star of the Right,” as Breitbart headlined), according to Marine Le Pen, “nobody” in her party “has had relations … with Mr. Bannon or any other member of the provisional administration of Donald Trump.”

In fact, the mention of her niece and Bannon seemed to set Marine Le Pen off her stride. There are some figures in the Front National, she said, who have longstanding ties to a few Republican leaders, but not exactly to Trump. “Me, I… I …” she said, hesitating and calculating, “I think that these relations will deepen when I will have been elected president.”

So Trump, Bannon, and her niece seem to be points of some confusion for Marine Le Pen. But in an hour-long conference with the Anglo-American Press Association here which ignored almost entirely the likely opponents she will face in the French presidential elections next April, there were two figures she spoke about with perfect clarity: Hillary Clinton, who seems to represent everything she hates; and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to be able to do no wrong. Indeed, she often seemed to be reciting Kremlin talking points. [Continue reading…]

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