Israel slams Marine Le Pen over Vel d'Hiv roundup claim

Far-right French presidential contender Marine Le Pen made "a serious mistake" by denying that the French State was responsible for the roundup of Jews in World War II, her main rival said Monday.

The National Front leader downplayed the state's role in the roundup of 13,000 Jews at the Vel d'Hiv cycling track in 1942.

Le Pen said Sunday on RTL radio "I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv", - a reference to the stadium where thousands of Jews were rounded up before being sent to Nazi death camps.

"I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France".

Yonathan Arfi, vice-chairman of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), said Ms Le Pen's remarks were not unguarded, but signalled a "deliberate hardening of her campaign... a way of positioning the party in its Vichyist and collaborationist tradition".

"In reality, our children have been taught they had every reason to criticize [France], to see only its darkest aspects", Le Pen has said. A Friday poll conducted by French firm Ifop showed Melenchon polling 0.5 percentage points higher at 17 percent, while Le Pen and Macron's numbers have slipped slightly.

The ministry says in a statement that her comments are "contrary to historical truth, as expressed in the statements of successive French presidents who recognized France's responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust". Historically, it is estimated that 76,000 French Jews were killed during World War II.

"If anyone still doubted it, Marine Le Pen is indeed the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen".

Jewish groups and the Israeli government criticised Le Pen.

In this year's presidential race, the centrist Macron and 48-year-old Le Pen are running neck-and-neck ahead of a first-round vote on April 23, each with around 23 percent.

In 1995, then president Jaques Chirac was the first to state that France had a role in and responsibility for the deportations, which were carried out by French police officers on the order of the Nazis.

Le Pen's father repeatedly has been convicted for anti-Semitism and racism.

However Le Pen spins this, her words are a reminder of the ugly strains of anti-Semitism and historical revisionism still present in the National Front, despite her efforts to give the party a respectable makeover.

In the runoff set for May 7, Macron, 39, would win handily if the election were held today.

He said that when Macron travelled to Algeria in February and called France's 150-year colonisation of the country a crime against humanity, the reaction "was pretty strong".

Le Pen later defended her comments in a statement, claiming: "I consider that France and the Republic were in London during the occupation and that the Vichy regime was not France".

"It does not in any way exonerate the personal and personal responsibility of the French who participated in the vile round-up of the Vel d'Hiv and all the atrocities committed during that period", she added.

  • Leroy Wright