French far-right symbol Jean-Marie Le Pen announced Monday that he will not run in upcoming regional elections, standing down amid a high-profile feud with his daughter over the future of the National Front party.
The move follows party chief Marine Le Pen’s refusal to back her father as a candidate in a key region in southern France after the two fell out last week over anti-Semitic and other offensive remarks the 86-year-old party founder made in two interviews.
Ms. Le Pen has led the anti-immigration party to electoral successes and sought to clean up its racist image.
Laurent Munich, a French-Jewish journalist, said that there is great skepticism as to whether the younger Le Pen’s “outrage” is a sincere move away from her party’s anti-Semitic past or merely political posturing.
“She has been in politics for 25 years and has been existing comfortably with this ideology. All of a sudden she decided it is unbearable,” he told Hamodia.
Le Pen initially announced his decision to stand down in an interview Monday with Le Figaro newspaper’s weekly magazine.
Le Pen said he wants his granddaughter, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a rising star and one of three party lawmakers who are close to the elder Le Pen, to run in his place.
By standing down, Le Pen avoids what would have been a deeply embarrassing episode for himself and the party — his possible formal exclusion as a candidate on Friday, when the National Front’s political bureau meets to designate who will run in the December election.
However, he is not home free. Marine Le Pen has said she has decided to send her father before a party disciplinary board for repeating that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” in the history of World War II — a remark for which he has been convicted — and for voicing support for Philippe Pétain, who headed France’s collaborationist Vichy government during the war.
“The drama that is unfolding in front of our eyes is attempting to distract us from the real issue: whether the National Front has changed, whether the members are still anti-Semitic and racist, whether they are trying to appeal to a racist and anti-Semitic electorate,” said Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the Paris office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). “What we are seeing now is just a public spectacle. To some extent this family feud allows Marine Le Pen to make believe the party has changed without actually addressing the real issues.”
Rodan-Benzaquen added that research has shown that the National Front’s voters hold significantly more anti-Semitic views than the general populace.
Economic troubles in France, coupled with increased anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by recent terror attacks, have contributed to the growing popularity of the once marginalized National Front. In the elder Le Pen’s day, the party functioned as an outside “third party”; however, its younger leadership has increasingly laid out plans on broader issues and struck a more mainstream tone.
“This is very complex for the Jewish community. I am convinced that some, if not a lot of, Jews in France with little political background do vote for National Front. They feel that the problem today is one of massive immigration and that is what the party is focusing on,” said Mr. Munich. “It would be easier if that was their only issue, but for the time being they are still anti-Semitic as well.”