New anti-Semitism row: should Le Pen's daughter kick him out?
As Marine Le Pen tries to exploit the Front National's success at the polls, her father does it again…
After the latest apparently anti-Semitic outburst from the Front National's old warhorse Jean-Marie Le Pen, his daughter Marine Le Pen is under pressure to kick him out of the party he founded – or risk being accused of secretly sanctioning the old man's ugly interventions.
Le Pen, now 86, was asked during a video interview posted on the far-right party's website on Friday what he thought of the various celebrities who had condemned the FN's astonishing 25 per cent score in last month's European parliament election.
Having slagged off Madonna and the former tennis star Yannick Noah, Le Pen was invited to comment on remarks made by the French singer Patrick Bruel, who is Jewish.
"On fera une fournee la prochaine fois!" he shot back, laughing. "We'll make an oven-load next time!"
Le Pen claims he has no idea why anyone would see this as anti-Semitic – his critics must be "imbeciles", he said afterwards.
But "fournee" is the French word for a batch of bread or croissants ready for the oven ("four") so it's pretty hard to imagine what else might have been going through his head, bearing in mind that he once famously referred to the French-Jewish government minister Michel Durafour as "Durafour crematoire" - "four crematoire" being the French for a Nazi-style crematorium oven.
He enjoys his word play, does Le Pen; he also likes the word "imbecile". Following the Durafour affair, he responded: "M Durafour is not just an imbecile but a bum."
The French media are reporting that Marine Le Pen is furious with her father – that it's just the sort of thing that sets the FN back years when she has been fighting so hard to "detoxify" the party's image. Well, furious up to a point.
What she actually said was that her father was certainly not referring to the Nazi gas ovens and that it was an innocent if ill-judged remark.
“I am convinced that the meaning attributed to his words stems from a malicious interpretation,” she told Le Figaro at the weekend. “Nevertheless, given Jean-Marie Le Pen’s very long experience, not to have anticipated the way those words would be interpreted is a political mistake and the Front National is suffering the consequences.”
But some within the Front National, unburdened by fillial loyalty, are saying this is the last straw, coming as it does so soon after the Ebola scandal. (France's "demographic explosion", Le Pen said during the recent election campaign, could be solved in three months by a deadly Ebola epidemic.)
Gilbert Collard, one of the FN’s two members of parliament, and known to be close to Marine Le Pen, said the "fournee" remark was "unacceptable and intolerable" and called on Jean-Marie Le Pen to retire from politics.
Tellingly, Louis Aliot, who is Marine's boyfriend as well as being the FN's vice-president, called the remark "politically stupid and disturbing".
Anti-racism campaigners and Jewish groups are on the warpath, too. SOS Racisme has announced that it intends to make a criminal complaint against Le Pen this week, saying his remark was not a “simple overstepping of the mark but an example of the filthiest anti-Semitic thinking”.
Jean-Marie Le Pen will take all this in his stride. It's nearly three decades since he was first convicted under French Holocaust denial laws, after he dismissed the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews as "just a detail in the history of World War Two". Within two years he was making his "Durafour crematoire" crack and there have been other convictions and fines since.
For Marine Le Pen, however, it gets more serious every time. She not only needs the FN to appear a credible party if she's to make a breakthrough in the 2017 French presidential election; she's also trying to get together an official group of Eurosceptic parties in the European parliament to make the most of last month's success at the polls.
Nigel Farage has already ruled out any formal alliance between Ukip and the FN because of the French party's anti-Semitic leanings. Now even Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, which is allied to the FN, has called the fournee remark "disgusting".
Has Jean-Marie enjoyed his last hurrah?