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Are French and Italian far-right and far-left free of antisemitism?

People gather against anti semitism, one carrying a placard reading "our lives worth more that an imported conflict" Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Paris. The alleged rape of a 12
People gather against anti semitism, one carrying a placard reading "our lives worth more that an imported conflict" Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Paris. The alleged rape of a 12 Copyright Oleg Cetinic/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Oleg Cetinic/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Sergio Cantone
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Far-right parties in France and Italy struggle against the blunders of their own extremists while being vocally pro-Israel. Meanwhile, the far-left pro-Palestinian narrative often skids into a fierce anti-Israeli rhetoric.

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A lack of clarity concerning their respective past has prevented the French and Italian far-right parties from being fully perceived by public opinion as ordinary, mainstream political forces.

Despite their relative electoral success, unresolved issues from their histories seem to be casting a shadow over their contemporary iteration.

Anti-semitic leftovers are still present among their more extreme supporters, making it hard for their leadership to be fully integrated into the national and European establishment.

Is National Rally truly pro-Israel?

Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN) is expected to win a relative majority in the French parliament, yet it could hardly form a government as, despite their deep divisions, its antagonist parties gathered in an electoral cordon sanitaire, known as the Republican Front coalition.

Is the anti-fascist "no pasarán"* rally call still an objective constitutional and political ground to exclude the far-right from the executive and justify broad platform alliances while being highly flexible on ideology?

According to Jean-Pierre Darnis, a professor of International relations and Franco-Italian relations from the University of Nice and the LUISS University in Rome: "We have to state that the RN has evolved, we can state that Marine Le Pen has taken distances from her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen)." "New convergences have appeared in the RN, and now, the party has a varied sociology."

Serge Klarsfeld poses in his office, Tuesday, July 2, 2024 in Paris. France's renowned Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld advised voters faced with a duel between a candidate from Ma
Serge Klarsfeld poses in his office, Tuesday, July 2, 2024 in Paris. France's renowned Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld advised voters faced with a duel between a candidate from MaLouise Delmotte/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

"Despite the fact that the old antisemitic component has not completely disappeared from the roots of the party, since the conflict in Gaza, the party has taken an anti-Islam position."

"It has shifted to the anti-Islam approach away from antisemitism because in France the RN antagonises the left and the far left that has certain militants that are pro-Palestinians and pro-Gaza," Darnis told Euronews.

Is this pro-Israeli stance enough to win over the public opinion in France and in Europe?

"The (electoral) tactic of the RN is to try to reassure and perhaps will reassure a conservative and reactionary part of the Jewish community in France," concluded Darnis.

In an interview Thursday on the French radio station Sud Radio, Marine Le Pen said that "those in France who support Hamas have been just promoting Hamas' interests."

"Hamas is the worst solution for the Palestinians because it conducts terrorist attacks and it uses the civilians as human shields," she added.

Serge Klarsfeld, a French-Jewish historian and Nazi hunter, spoke out in her support.

"Marine Le Pen is the head of a party which supports Israel and supports the Jews against Islam and against the killing of Jews during the last 10 or 20 years. And I support the votes for Marine Le Pen because I believe that she says the truth when she supports Israel and the Jews. It's very simple."

Marine Le Pen took over from her father in 2011, and the far-right party rebranded in 2018.

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Yet Shannon Seban, a French Jewish centrist candidate from Ivry-sur-Seine in the southeastern suburbs of Paris, doesn't trust the new sympathetic approach of the National Rally towards the Jewish community.

"They've wanted to present themselves as a respectable party. They've wanted to present themselves as a shield, a protection against antisemitism for French Jews. But we won't be fooled. The National Rally will remain the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen and I can't forget that they have a racist, xenophobic ideology."

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators holding banners and chanting slogans walk in Paris, Saturday, July 19, 2014, to protest against the Israeli army's bombings in the Gaza strip. Si
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators holding banners and chanting slogans walk in Paris, Saturday, July 19, 2014, to protest against the Israeli army's bombings in the Gaza strip. SiRemy de la Mauviniere/AP

Radical left (LFI): Recurringly antisemitic or just once?

From the start of the IDF's operations in Gaza last October, the French radical left has taken a staunch pro-Palestinian position.

The radicalisation of the political struggle in France has harshened the rhetoric on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and periodically crossed the boundaries between the legitimate political critics against the Israeli action in Gaza and the extremist anti-Zionist narrative.

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The generalized anti-Israeli narrative has ignited and increased the number of antisemitic episodes.

The result is that the radical left's Unbowed France (LFI) has turned into the bogeyman of the New Popular Front and the anti-far-right bloc, which encompasses the political spectrum from the far-left to the centrists.

The perplexity concerning LFI's criticism of Israel and episodic aggressive anti-Zionist rhetoric has been one of the main obstacles to getting the Republican front together quickly.

Sebang has also voiced her deep disappointment in the radical left narrative:

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"Hate speech has flourished since 7 October 7. And because of my surname, my first name, my origins, there's been an outpour of antisemitism against me. I've never wanted to have protection, but I think it's become necessary to carry on with my campaign and more importantly, because I won't back down".

"When at the market, I'm told, 'This is far-left territory, it's the New Popular Front (turf). Go away, you have nothing to do here.' I say to them, 'No, I have a place here even if I have different ideas than them. What I fight for is the Republic.'"

"There have been some critiques a few weeks or months ago in the French political arena, some members of LFI have been accused of being antisemitic. This is a fact," said Darnis.

"At the very same time last week, the left coalition of the NFI decided to propose a common platform, and the first item of the platform was to acknowledge the fact that the 7 October attack against Israel was a terrorist attack."

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How do you handle embarrassing incidents?

Whereas the National Rally in France has still to reach the needed majority to rule the country, far-right Brothers of Italy's leader Giorgia Meloni has been prime minister for two years.

Last week, Meloni had to face an embarrassing moment when a journalistic investigation by the Italian online outlet FanPage recently unveiled the antisemitic, Fascist and Nazi behaviour of some members of the Brothers of Italy's youth.

To what extent are the French and the Italian cases comparable?

"For sure, there are still antisemitic remains hidden among the right-wing. They surface as soon as one digs a little. On the left, instead, there are fringes that claim it more openly, and this is a problem concerning the more radical (leftist) movements," said Gaetano Quagliariello, professor of contemporary history at the LUISS University of Rome.

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As soon as Meloni became prime minister, her government abandoned the political sympathies for Moscow that some sectors of the Brothers of Italy had when the party was in opposition.

At the same time, Meloni boosted Italy's traditional pro-transatlantic foreign policy, backed Volodymyr Zelenskyy's Ukraine with a completely new narrative, and, in particular, offered full political support to Israel during the Gaza crisis, avoiding any open criticism of the conservative PM Benyamin Netanyahu's actions.

People take part in a rally organized by Rome's Jewish community against antisemitism and terrorism, and demanding peace in Israel, in Rome, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/A
People take part in a rally organized by Rome's Jewish community against antisemitism and terrorism, and demanding peace in Israel, in Rome, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/AAndrew Medichini/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

"Meloni's foreign policy has resolved the ambiguities (coming from her past) in this period. The uncertainty for Meloni comes from the fact that the positions of her leadership have not been absorbed by the collective body of her political base," Quagliariello, who also served as the Italian minister for the constitutional reforms in the big tent government led by Enrico Letta, told Euronews.

After the journalistic investigation made public the antisemitic actions of her party's youth wing, Meloni released a long letter against these acts.

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"Meloni's letter is perhaps too long and self-victimising, but it is also a powerful commitment, telling (the fascists of the party) you are not simply wrong — you actually don't belong to our new political path," Quagliariello said.

Are these sincere commitments or realpolitik-style political concessions to domestic and international public opinion?

The Italian post-fascist MSI movement became the National Alliance party in 1994, when Meloni was about to become one of its youngest representatives.

When the National Alliance put aside its fascist legacy, the conservative electorate in Italy converged on the new party, which was set to become a democratic constitutional-conservative right-wing force.

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French President Emmanuel Macron, center right, attends ceremonies marking the 79th anniversary of Victory Day by the statue of the General de Gaulle Wednesday, May 8, 2024 in
French President Emmanuel Macron, center right, attends ceremonies marking the 79th anniversary of Victory Day by the statue of the General de Gaulle Wednesday, May 8, 2024 inMichel Euler/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

"This function in France was played by the Gaullists. They were historically anti-fascist and anti-Nazi. Charles de Gaulle was the head of the French resistance during WWII. His heirs have a clear sheet of Republican (Constitutional) political legitimacy," said Quagliariello.

Today, de Gaulle's heirs have been surpassed by the RN, who are seen as the political descendants of the Vichy regime.

Marine Le Pen has undertaken a process of ideological purification in the last years when she cut political relations with her father, Jean-Marie.

"I think, and also the Italian example indicates that, when you get into power, when you get into coalition, one has to moderate the views if one is on the extreme, because you only gain power getting in a way to the centre. Also because they need to enlarge the majority," concluded Darnis.

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