French far-left leader accused of anti-Semitism
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Reactions to comments made by the leader of France’s far-left party ignited a weekend of accusations of anti-Semitism, and counter accusations that the ruling Socialists were clutching at straws in their attempts to “demonise” him.
The leader of France’s far-left party was accused Saturday of making anti-Semitic remarks about the country’s finance minister, who was born to Jewish parents, prompting politicians of all stripes to weigh in on an ongoing and increasingly bitter spat played out in the country’s media.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon (photo), who heads the Communist-allied Parti de Gauche (Left Party), referred to French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici as “one of those 17 Eurogroup bastards [finance ministers]” putting pressure on Cyprus as it urgently sought a bail-out solution to its debt crisis.
“Moscovici behaves like someone who has stopped thinking in French, like someone who thinks only in the language of international finance,” Mélenchon told a press conference on Saturday.
But rather than criticising Mélanchon for calling Moscovici a “bastard”, the comments were slammed by the ruling Socialists for whom “language of international finance” was for them too reminiscent of anti-Semitic pre-war rhetoric in France.
Many French far right groups in the 1930s shared Nazi Germany’s conviction that Jews were dangerous because of supposed links to global capitalist conspiracies that were to blame for stock market crashes, recessions and hyperinflation.
France’s wartime record of collaborationist persecution of its Jewish population remains an uncomfortable issue, and language harking back to the country’s dark past is often considered dangerously racist.
“Mélenchon should immediately withdraw these unacceptable comments that he made using the vocabulary of the 1930s,” Socialist Party (PS) Harlem Désir said on Saturday.
Moscovici himself responded that Mélenchon was “trying, through his hatred of social democracy and of the PS, to test the limits of what is acceptable … and there are some issues that he really shouldn’t touch”.
Mélenchon took more that 10% in the first round of the 2012 presidential election amid a general resurgence in support for the far-left and far-right that has the mainstream parties worried.
Since then, the ruling Socialists have been battling to woo supporters back from the Parti de Gauche, whose leader Mélenchon split from the PS in 2008 and allied himself with the French Communists (PCF).
“This is a diversion,” Mélenchon said on Sunday. “The PS has decided to take my words out of context and with the sole intention of demonising me.”
“I had no idea of Pierre Moscovici’s religion and I have no intention of making an issue of it in the future,” he added.
Criticism from all sides
Over the course of Sunday, mainstream politicians from both the left and the right weighed in to criticise Mélenchon's choice of words.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg were both critical of his statement, while Environment Minister Cécile Duflot said Mélenchon “wasn’t anti-Semitic but does tend to push things a bit too far, especially on questions of nationalism.”
And scenting an opportunity to upset the balance on the left, centre-right leader of the opposition UMP party Jean-François Copé spoke out to persuade Socialist President François Hollande to permanently disown any electoral alliances with the Parti de Gauche.
“It’s the price you pay when you ally yourself with extremists … people who make undignified comments that are contrary to the values of the French Republic,” he told Europe 1 radio.
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