Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen drew protests from her political rivals and the Israeli government on Monday by denying the French state's responsibility for a mass arrest of Jews in Paris during World War Two.
Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, addresses supporters during a political rally in Metz, France, March 18, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
Two weeks before the first round of the election in which she is a frontrunner, Le Pen touched a raw nerve by reopening debate about the state's role in one of the darkest episodes in French history under the Nazi occupation.
"I think France isn't responsible for the Vel d'Hiv," Le Pen said on Sunday, referring to the German-ordered roundup by French police of 13,000 Jews in July 1942.
Most were crammed into the Velodrome d'Hiver cycling stadium, commonly known as the Vel d'Hiv, before being deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
"I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France," Le Pen said in an interview with media groups Le Figaro, RTL and LCI.
Le Pen's rivals pounced on her comments, which could set back her attempts to clean up the image of her anti-immigration National Front and distance it from the anti-Semitic views of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's founder.
"Some people had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen. They haven't changed," centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron told BFM television.
The Israeli foreign ministry said it regretted that anti-Semitism "is raising its head again today".
"This contradicts the historical truth as expressed in statements by French presidents who recognized the country’s responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust," a ministry spokesman said.
"Vel d'Hiv" was the top trending topic on Twitter in France on Monday, the first official day of campaigning for the election, whose first round is on April 23.
Gilles Ivaldi, a political scientist at the University of Nice, said Le Pen's remark was damaging for her. "It ... runs completely counter to the party's efforts and gives ammunition to all those who say that the National Front remains a party with extreme right militants and culture."Reuters