Israel’s Health Ministry says a top official who recently met with the secretary general of France’s far-right political party was unaware of the person’s identity — and the meeting was stopped once it became clear.
Health Ministry spokesman Eyal Basson said the ministry’s deputy director general attended a meeting billed as focused on medical cooperation and did not know Nicolas Bay represented the National Front. Basson says within five minutes the meeting was halted.
Israel has no official ties to the party because of its far-right ideology and history of anti-Semitism. Party leader Marine Le Pen is a leading presidential candidate in the upcoming election.
Bay released photos of his meetings with various Israeli officials. Those with an army colonel and the Health Ministry official were later deleted.
Last week, a similar incident took place involving the Likud.
“The meeting with Mr. Bay was unofficial and took place by coincidence,” said David Shayan, head of the Likud Party’s youth group. “Likud Youth has no interest in involvement with the political process and elections in France.” He declined to say what was discussed at the meeting.
Since Marine Le Pen took over the National Front leadership from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011, she has sought to revamp the party’s anti-Semitic reputation.
Nevertheless, Johann Habib, spokesman for the Israeli Francophone Federation, called the visit “shocking” and “a provocation.”
“This party does not share our values of democracy and equality and tolerance,” Habib said. “The party is anti-Semitic.” He questioned why Israel allowed him into the country, The Times of Israel said.
Last month, in a letter sent to Vienna’s Jewish Community, President Reuven Rivlin said he will “never condone” meetings between representatives of Israel and “European parties of the far right that are tainted with a history of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial … or the promotion of racial hatred or intolerance.”
The president said he was “against any meetings by official representatives of Israel with representatives of such groups.”
Earlier in December, Israel’s Foreign Ministry put out a directive advising ministers against meeting a member of a Swedish far-right party visiting the country as part of a delegation of European and U.S. lawmakers.