French Jewish community head embroiled in bitter row with prominent far-Left leader

The left-wing populist party, which occupies 74 of the 577 seats in the French National Assembly, has frequently crossed swords with French Jews.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

The head of the French Jewish community is embroiled in a major row with the head of the country’s main left-wing party over comments he made at a ceremony at the weekend commemorating the deportation of Parisian Jews by the Nazis.

Speaking on Sunday at the ceremony to mark the 81st anniversary of the notorious “Vel d’Hiv” round-up of July 16-17, 1942 — when nearly 13,000 Jewish children were assembled for deportation by French police acting on the instructions of the German authorities — Yonathan Arfi, the head of CRIF, the umbrella organization representing French Jews, issued a sharp attack against La France Insoumise (LFI — “France Rising”).

The left-wing populist party, which occupies 74 of the 577 seats in the French National Assembly, has frequently crossed swords with French Jews over its hostile stance towards Israel and its alleged reluctance to acknowledge the presence of antisemitism on the political left.

Asserting that LFI politicians were “more part of the problem than the solution,” Arfi went on to accuse the party’s leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of having compromised France’s republican traditions to the point of being “ready to sacrifice the Republic on the altar of communitarianism.”

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In a furious response posted on Twitter, Mélenchon depicted Arfi as a representative of the “far right.” He accused the Jewish leader of “using the ceremony in memory of the victims of the roundup of Jews by the French police to take me to task.”

“Abject,” Mélenchon added. “The far right no longer has a limit.”

CRIF has long urged French political leaders to avoid electoral alliances or pacts with the parties of the far left and the extreme right. Responding to Mélenchon in a statement published through the AFP news agency, Arfi said that the accusation that he supports the far right was “particularly perverse” and “grotesque.” He called on LFI supporters to “emancipate” themselves from Mélenchon “and his wanderings outside the republican framework.”

Mélenchon has clashed with the Jewish community on several occasions. In 2019, for example, he provoked fury when he opined that Jeremy Corbyn — the former leader of the British Labour Party whose term was marked by a series of scandals involving antisemitism — should not have to apologize for the “churlish claims of antisemitism” aimed at him.

In the run-up to the 2022 presidential election, Mélenchon argued that the positions adopted by far right maverick candidate Eric Zemmour, who is of Jewish origin, represented “traditions that are very much linked to Judaism.”

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Other leading LFI figures have made similar statements. In Feb., Ersilia Soudais, an LFI parliamentarian, sparked ire among Jewish and anti-racist groups when she posted a photograph of herself meeting with Palestinian solidarity activists above a tweet concerned with antisemitism that ended with the words, “Free Palestine.”

Additionally, last December, Soudais was among a group of MPs who greeted Salah Hamouri, a Palestinian terrorist with French citizenship, when he arrived in France after being expelled by Israel. Hamouri had served a six-year prison sentence in Israel for his part in a 2005 attempt to assassinate the country’s then Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef.