Marine Le Pen Courting Conservative US Jews

Front National leader Marine Le Pen, the presidential challenger currently surfing Europe’s populist wave, recently visited the US as part of reconciliation efforts towards the Jewish community.

Marine Le Pen during recent US visit to gather support for her French presidential bid

In the report below, republished by kind permission of and with acknowledgements to, the Arunwithaview blog, writer Arun Kapil offers his analysis of the Front National’s (FN) relations with American conservatives. He reviews, from his own perspective on the political spectrum,  FN’s efforts to court the conservative American Jewish community since the time of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former FN leader,  through to current attempts by his successor and daughter, Marine Le Pen.

Author Arun Kapil is a US-born academic with a PhD in political science . He lives in France and lectures  at several higher education establishments in Paris.

Le Pen and America

November 12, 2011 by Arun

Poor Marine Le Pen. She went to the US last week to up her geopolitical cred with French voters but hardly anyone of significance would see her. She managed quickie meetings on Capitol Hill with libertarian Ron Paul and Illinois Tea Partier Joe Walsh, but that was it for politicians (see here and here). A visit to the DC Holocaust Memorial Museum fell though when the museum said that Mme Le Pen would not be given VIP treatment (here and here). And the coup she scored with the Israeli ambassador to the UN was explained away by the latter—not too convincingly—as one big mistake (here and here).

Jews were an important objective in Marine LP’s US visit. In her effort to “de-demonize” the Front National she has been trying to shed its Judeophobic image—and reality, in view of her father’s well-known attitudes toward Jews and calculated verbal outrages on the Holocaust, but also those of a significant percentage of core FN supporters. Anti-Semitism has declined precipitously in France over the past sixty years; according to a wealth of polling data, the percentage of Frenchmen today who have antipathetic sentiments toward Jews is in the low teens—about the same as in the US—, but a sizable portion of those who still do are supporters of the FN. For French Judeophobes, the FN is their natural home. Though Marine LP hardly differs from her father politically she is not herself an anti-Semite. This is known; e.g. in her youth she was an habitué of night clubs frequented by her generational peers from the Sentierand among whom she apparently had numerous friends. She has moreover proclaimed her support of the State of Israel, a position not taken by her father or other FN elders. A new trend in the European populist right, which seeks to enlist Jews in its campaign against Islam and Muslims (e.g. Geert Wilders). But French Jews, who have voted in their large majority for the left over the years but are now moving right—Jews were enthusiastic supporters of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007—, are deaf to Marine LP’s siren song. The far right, on account of its history and sociological composition, is radioactive among Jews, but also the Israelis, who have shown no interest in Mme Le Pen’s overtures. Acceptance by Jews is the key to making the FN respectable and in breaking down the wall between it and the mainstream right. So if Marine LP can’t get to French Jews via Israel, she’ll try to do so via their American counterparts.

After her stopovers in Washington and New York, she flew to south Florida, with Jews and Republicans the twin objective. On Saturday November 5th a reception was held for her at the plush Palm Beach home of Bill Diamond, a wealthy realtor and member of the Palm Beach town council, and to which some 200 mostly Jewish Republicans were invited (here and here). Diamond, a prominent member of the local Jewish community, is pals with Rudolph Giuliani—he was a top Giuliani appointee in New York and a financier of his 2008 presidential campaign—, was Florida co-chair of the recent Draft Trump boomlet, and is a local fundraiser for AIPAC (herehere, and here). Mme Le Pen’s intermediary in all this—her US fixer—was one Guido George Lombardi, an Italian-American operator, friends with Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi so it seems, a leader of something called “Tea Party Italy”—”which has brought the values of small government and more personal freedom to Italy”—, and the executive director of an outfit called the North Atlantic League, “which promotes positive foreign relations between Italy, Israel, and the United States”… (hereand here).

So that’s Marine Le Pen’s American network. A far cry from her father’s, who had more extensive contacts in the US during the 1980s, and at a time when he was running his mouth about the Holocaust. But despite being a Judeophobic facho, the GOP seemed to have no problem with Le Pen père and the FN. The difference between then and now? Le Pen was pro-American in those days—he became anti- from 1990 onward, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (it turned out that he liked Saddam Hussein more than he did any American)—and saw the “Reagan revolution” as a model, and the Likud world-view had not yet become hegemonic in the GOP. So when the FN won 35 seats in the 1986 legislative election—the only one in the Fifth Republic held under proportional representation—Jean-Marie Le Pen received a letter of congratulations signed by six Republican senators: Jesse Helms (NC), John East (NC), Paul Trible (VA), Steven Symms (ID), James McClure (ID), and Paul Laxalt (NV), the last one a personal friend of Ronald Reagan’s. The letter was prominently trumpeted in the FN rag National Hebdo (the names of the senators I have committed to memory, and my memory here is ironclad). Le Pen made more than one trip to the US during that period and met with politicians; one photo I remember saw him chatting amiably with several, including Senator Paula Hawkins (R-FL) (Le Pen’s English being fluent, communication was not a problem). And then there was Le Pen’s (in)famous handshake with President Reagan at a GOP event in 1987, and which was splashed across the whole cover of National Hebdo. Boy, were they proud. Reagan no doubt had no idea who Le Pen was, but the fact that the latter was there attested to some solid connections in the GOP. It should be said that Le Pen was the head of a parliamentary group at the time and thus enjoyed institutional legitimacy. But still. Le Pen was Le Pen and the FN was the FN.

It’s not clear what became of Le Pen’s GOP network in the 1990s. There was, however, one sector of the American right with which the FN developed a relationship, and that I learned about first-hand while attending—strictly as an observer—the FN’s Fête des Bleu-Blanc-Rouge in 1998. The Fête des BBR was the FN’s annual weekend bash held in mid-September—from 1981 until it was discontinued for financial reasons in 2007—in one of the parks around Paris (the Bois de Vincennes in the late ’90s), for the party’s hardcore supporters and to showcase it to the public. It was the FN’s (pale) imitation of the Communist party’s older, much larger, and far better attended Fête de l’Humanité, held the previous weekend in September, and with the same organization: of stands for the party’s departmental federations, satellite organizations, ideologically kindred publishing outlets, and the like, and with food, drink, amusement for the kids, and debates and forums with party leaders held throughout. And like the Fête de l’Huma there was the cité internationale, with stands of fraternal parties and groups from abroad. Foreign delegations at the Fête des BBR included the Vlaams Blok, Die Republikaner from Germany, the Italian Movimento Sociale-Fiamma Tricolore, Spanish Falangists, neo-fascistic parties from eastern Europe, and other sulphurous groupings of the European far right. In the middle of all this was a tent with a Confederate flag flying on top. I was more than intrigued and went over to check it out. The group: the Council of Conservative Citizens. I’d never heard of it. There were ten or so Americans, who were friendly enough. I talked for a while with the head of the delegation, an elderly Georgia businessman named Tom Dover. Said he was impressed with the FN’s spectacle. We had an amicable but contradictory exchange on the subject of immigration (he didn’t like all those Mexicans coming into the United States). Here’s a report of the CofCC‘s participation in the event, published on its web site on November 14, 1998


By Rupert Chiarella

On the weekend of the 19th and 20th of September, 1998, Council of Conservative Citizens leaders President Tom Dover, Chairman Gordon Lee Baum, along with members Jared Taylor, Sam Dickson, and Rupert Chiarella, attended the French Front National festival in Paris, France.

In attendance were over 100,000 people [AWAV: this is an exaggeration], including hundreds of European patriots from Britain, Hungary, Germany, Finland, Spain, South Africa, etc. A great cross section of all French society was in evidence during the weekend at the huge annual rally in which the young and old, the working and middle classes were well represented. Each district’s party federation, along with pro-nationalist newspapers and other nationalist associations had their own particular tent stands, selling t-shirts, music CDs, posters, magazines and their own regional foods and beverages. In various tents throughout the festival, numerous debates and discussions were conducted by leading Front National leaders on issues such as the European Union, taxation, immigration, etc.

The Bleu, Blanc, Rouge (Blue, White and Red) festival is in fact a great example of family values, as thousands of parents brought their children along to learn and appreciate their cultural identity, which like that of European-Americans is under threat from the rising tide of third world immigration-invasion. It was a truly politically incorrect awareness-raising event.

Superbly organized from start to finish, the two-day festival concluded on Sunday afternoon, with a rousing speech by National Front leader Jean Marie Le Pen. Le Pen had met privately with the CofCC contingent earlier that same day and appealed for patriots to unite and to fight as a single entity, as opposed to dividing themselves into many different factions. At the conclusion of the private meeting, CoFCC President Tom Dover presented a Confederate flag as a gift to President Le Pen, with Jared Taylor interpreting. Taylor, in a humorous reference to Front National’s concerns about American domination, said to Le Pen that, “This flag represent an early blow against the hegemony of the United Slates. This Confederate flag flew over the state capitol in South Carolina.” Le Pen responded, “Oh, I certainly recognize that flag. We are sympathetic to the Confederate cause.” To many French nationalists, the Confederate flag signifies the great struggle against one world government, a symbol of rebellion against the encroaching federal government power and the ability of the French people to keep their right of self-government.

The following Monday morning, the CoFCC delegates visited the ultra-modern and spacious headquarters of the Front National located in the western corner of Paris in the suburb of Saint-Cloud, and were given a complete tour of their facilities by Commandant Jacques Dore and Vice-President Dominique Chaboche, both of whom are in charge of relations with foreign European patriotic groups. Possible future co-operation between the Front National and the CoFCC was also discussed.

The Front National is a highly organized and well-led movement that has the backing of over five million of French people along with thousands of publicly elected officials. The real lesson to be learned here, however, is the viability that such a patriotic party can have, as a third party and perhaps soon as the alternative to the current socialist-communist coalition government. Moreover, the themes most important to the Front National, such as keeping national identity and sovereignty, diminishing the crippling tax burdens on working people, and assisting families to be more stable and to have more children, are in fact of critical importance to Americans, as well.

Here’s another report from the time—and with interesting interviews with FN personalities—by Jared Taylor, the CofCC’s in-house cosmopolitan intellectual. When I got home from the BBR fête I looked at the CofCC’s publications I had culled from their stand and did an Internet search, which revealed it to be the successor to the White Citizens’ Council of the 1950s and ’60s, which fought desegregation and the civil rights movement in the South. Paleoconservative white supremacists. Creepy stuff, oozing with racialism. Definitely not the mainstream GOP. But not outside the GOP either. In the CofCC newspaper was a regular column by Patrick Buchanan, guest columns by Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)—who happened to be Senate Majority Leader at the time—, and photos of CofCC leaders with Lott (this one with Tom Dover), Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA)—one of President Clinton’s persecutors during the House impeachment hearings that fall—, Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice, and other mainly Southern GOP politicians. As it happened, the Washington Post revealed the links of Lott, Barr, and other Southern GOPers with the white supremacist CofCC—a group many in Washington had never heard of—in a series of investigative reports in December ’98 (herehere, and here). Lott and the others claimed they didn’t know about the CofCC’s racialism—yeah, sure—and had only had minimal dealings with it, but the reality was the opposite (and particularly for Lott, whose relationship with the group was longstanding). I signaled the CofCC’s attendance at the FN’s fête to WaPo reporter Thomas Edsell and Le Monde’s Washington correspondent, who, in his article on the affair, cited me as the source.

It should be said that on the race issue the FN was and is more progressive and tolerant than the CofCC. Though racialism has permeated certain pro-FN far right publications (e.g. Rivarol, which is also anti-Semitic) and many FN supporters have racist attitudes—as do many non-FN Frenchmen—, outright racism has not been a theme in FN discourse, which is focused on the immigration issue (as with the rest of the European populist right, not to mention the US Republicans today). There are indeed black and Arab/Maghrebi members and supporters of the FN, and, though not numerous, were in evidence at the Fête des BBR. In the 1998 regional elections, the sole Arab/Maghrebi elected to the conseil régional of the Île-de-France (the Paris region), Farid Smahi, was from the FN. And one of the leading FN personalities in Marseille at the time was Stéphane Durbec, of Antillean origin. (There have even been a few Jews in the FN). It is unlikely a single person of color ever attended a CofCC event, let alone sought to join it.

It may be added parenthetically that the racialist current in the FN at the time was incarnated by Bruno Mégret and Jean-Yves Le Gallou—whose intellectual origins were in the Club de l’Horloge and the GRECE—, who split from the FN in the party’s crack up in December 1998, going on to form the rival MNR, which was to the right of the FN. As it happened, the racialism of the Mégret-Le Gallou faction was shocking to a number of pro-Le Pen personalities in the FN leadership, as was their Muslimophobia. Contrary to popular belief, Islam was not an issue for the FN—until Marine LP, in a change of line, opportunistically decided to make it one in the past two years—and party discourse did not stigmatize Muslims qua Muslims. For more on the FN in its heyday, one may profitably consult these two books, which are the best journalistic inquiries on the party to date.

Back to the CofCC, there was no indication that Marine Le Pen had any contact with it during her US visit last week, though she did have a tête-à-tête luncheon at the National Republican Club on Capitol Hill with lobbyist Richard Hines, who is well-known in GOP circles for his defense of the “lost cause” of the Confederacy (herehere, and here). On the margins of the GOP but not outside it. The question of how to deal with Marine LP, who has sought to embrace the Tea Party, has been “a percolating issue” in the GOP, according to this piecefrom last April on the web site of the conservative weekly Human Events (the comments thread of the article is highly entertaining, BTW).

This poses the question of the ideological affinity of the FN and Tea Party GOP. I asserted in a post in June that, mutatis mutandis, there were no significant differences between the two. This provoked reactions of varying vehemence from Republican readers, who objected that were important differences indeed, the principal ones being that the FN is a “fascist” party that believes in a strong state, is racist and with an ethnic conception of the nation, and has a top down organization (as opposed  to the bottom up grassroots Tea Party). On the first, I will state categorically that the FN is not a fascist party and has never been one. There are indeed fascistic elements to the FN, such as the leader principle—at least when J-M Le Pen was at the helm—and the cult of the nation, though these are hardly unique to fascist movements. But a central feature of fascism—and of the pre-World War II French extreme right (Action Française et al)—is anti-parliamentarism and a doctrinal rejection of democracy, which are absent in FN discourse. The FN has scrupulously respected the rules of the democratic game—as has the French Communist party, which was doctrinally contemptuous of “bourgeois democracy” for a good part of its history—and Jean-Marie Le Pen has never acted outside the law or advocated doing so (e.g. though a strong supporter of Algérie française he did not implicate himself with the OAS in the final, calamitous year of the Algerian war). As for the belief in a strong state (“big government”), two things. First, the FN, though advocating protectionist tariff barriers, has historically been economically libéral, i.e. pro-free market, and with low taxes a central part of its program (the inspiration here being Jean-Claude Martinez, a well-known professor of tax law, longtime member of the FN leadership until recently, and Jean-Marie Le Pen ally, who has advocated abolishing the income tax, among other things). Marine Le Pen’s current rhetoric on the economy—favoring state intervention and social spending—is something new for the FN and driven by opportunistic, electoralist considerations. Second, the strong state side to the FN has mainly been on the issue of security, of beefing up the repressive powers of the state to crack down on lawbreakers and other transgressors. On this, there is hardly a difference with the GOP right wing, which has never seen a crime bill or Patriot Act it didn’t like, not to mention an increased military budget (the small government rhetoric of the American right has always been eyewash—a lot of hokum—, aimed only at transfer payments, public goods, and regulations on business, not at government tout court, but that’s another matter). And the FN and Tea Party both share a populist allergy to elites—or at least groups they designate as elites, and which are the same for both—and a detestation of the left (liberals in America), moderate right (RINOs for Rush Limbaugh and his dittoheads), and the mainstream media.

On the FN’s supposed racism and essentialist, ethnic conception of the nation, this is both exaggerated and misunderstood. I addressed the question of racism above. It of course exists among FN supporters and in the largernébuleuse of the extreme right, but is not part and parcel of FN party discourse. There has been a certain amount of nonsense on this score from the left over the past three decades. And while immigration has been the alpha and omega of FN discourse since the 1970s, the FN is not a xenophobic party. When the FN goes on about immigration, it has in mind that from certain parts of the world, not the whole world (in the same way as the anti-immigration wing of the GOP wants to curtail it from certain places but not others; e.g. if the dominant flow of immigrants into the US suddenly reverted back to the British isles and Germany—or exclusively toward educated Chinese and Indians—, it is unlikely that immigration would continue to be an important issue for the American right). And it should be said that numerous FN members, voters, adherents, and even leaders are of second and third generation immigrant origin, particularly from Spain and Italy (and there are notable mixed marriages in the historic leadership). Those of post-colonial immigrant origin are much less in evidence, of course, but this is also the case with the Tea Party GOP base, where one does not find too many supporters with roots in the post-1965 wave of immigration from Latin America and Asia.

There is, is should be said, one difference between between the FN and the Tea Party GOP on all this, which is on the conception of nationality. Voices on the American right have started to call for an end to absolute jus soli, where anyone born on American soil—including the children of undocumented migrants—is automatically American, but no sector of the American political spectrum that contests elections questions the jus soli principle (the CofCC may perhaps be an exception, but it is hardly a major player). Nationality law based mainly or exclusively on jus sanguinis has never had currency in the US or even made sense. Such has not been the case in France, where an organic, or integral, conception of the nation was predominant on the hard right through the Second World War and with which the FN has largely identified. But Jean-Marie Le Pen’s oft repeated assertion that “one is French by blood or blood spilled” (on est français par le sang ou le sang versé) leaves the door ajar to nationality acquisition via naturalization (and not only through serving in the Foreign Legion). And the sector of the FN that most strongly espoused integral nationalism—the Mégret-Le Gallou group—left with the 1998 split.

On the image of a top down, hierarchically ordered FN vs. a bottom up, grassroots Tea Party, the main thing one can say is that the FN is an established political party, whereas the Tea Party, which is less than three years old, is not an organization at all. The US also does not have political parties such as exists in France or most other democracies. The Democratic and Republican parties are loose, decentralized, non-hierarchically organized electoral machines in which card carrying, dues paying militants are non-existent. American political culture is very different from the French. That said, the Republicans have been more respectful of hierarchy and of the legitimism accorded to party elders than the Democrats. And the FN, despite the cult of personality around Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been as faction ridden and riven with internal contestation as other parties across the political spectrum (the Communists excepted until relatively recently).

Regardless of the similarities and differences between the FN and Tea Party GOP—and I argue that there are more of the former than the latter—, I am quite sure that hardcore FN supporters, were they to move to the US, would find their natural home in the Tea Party GOP. And vice-versa. American Democrats living in France invariably end up supporting the Socialists and other currents on the moderate left (EELV, PRG), leftist Americans look to the left of the Socialists (PG, MRC, NPA), and mainstream, moderate Republicans the UMP or MoDem. I will wager that Tea Partiers who live in France and acculturate into French society will, in their majority, find an affinity with the FN. The best way to establish this would be to take a test in the form of a questionnaire. Such a test exists and which I will post in the coming week.

UPDATE: It turns out that the test/questionnaire I was going to post—which dates from 2006 and the questions of which I have translated into English—has been inactivated until next summer (see here). Oh well. Sorry about that…

(Acknowledgements:  The Arunwithaview blog).

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