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December 28, 2020 11:14 am

France’s Macron Rebuked by Jewish Leader for Controversial Comments on Antisemitic Figures From Country’s Past

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avatar by Ben Cohen

French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Reuters / Benoit Tessier / Pool.

President Emmanuel Macron was the subject of a rare and stinging criticism from the head of France’s Jewish community last week, in the wake of a major media interview in which the French leader opined that two of the most notorious antisemites in his nation’s history should not be judged by that fact alone.

“I don’t see what the urgency was with [Macron] raising this issue again, and I admit that I am in total incomprehension,” Francis Kalifat — president of CRIF, the communal organization representing French Jews — told Jewish broadcaster Radio J last Thursday.

Kalifat was commenting on Macron’s interview in the latest edition of the magazine L’Express, in which the French leader spoke at length on the thorny topic of French national identity and culture.

Centrally, Macron lamented that “in most Western societies, we are witnessing some form of victim primacy.”

“The victim’s speech prevails over everything and crushes everything, including that of reason,” he noted.

Discussing the darker aspects of French history, Macron drew on the examples of two prominent French antisemites to make the point that recognizing their hatred of Jews should not obscure their broader importance.

Macron stated that Marshal Philippe Pétain — who led the wartime collaborationist government created following the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 — should also be remembered for the decisive role he played during World War I, when his victory at the Battle of Verdun in 1916 helped pave the way for Germany’s defeat in that conflict.

Macron said that while he strongly rejected Pétain’s “antisemitism and spirit of defeat” in relation to the Nazis, “I cannot deny that he was the hero of 1917 and a great soldier” — echoing similar remarks he made on the subject of Pétain in 2018, during the centenary commemorations of the end of World War I.

The French leader also said that Charles Maurras — an author and politician who started the far-right Action Française movement in 1899 — should not be obscured from the historical record because of his legendary hatred of Jews.

It was Maurras who famously confessed that “everything seems impossible or terribly difficult without the providential appearance of antisemitism,” a prejudice that, he explained, “enables everything to be arranged, smoothed over and simplified…If one were not an antisemite through patriotism, one would become an antisemite through a simple sense of opportunity.”

According to Macron in L’Express, “rather than be outraged, we need to understand.”

“I fight all the antisemitic ideas of Maurras, but I find it absurd to say that Maurras must no longer exist,” the French leader said.

In his radio interview, Kalifat accused Macron of “bringing notorious antisemites to light.”

Said the CRIF president: “We cannot bring to light men who have betrayed France or who have been the shame of France by defending the most infamous ideas. I don’t see the point of wanting to bring them back into the news.”

Macron’s comments were “almost an insult to the victims of the Second World War, not just Jews,” Kalifat charged, adding that he hoped to discuss the matter personally with the president.

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