The leader of France’s far-right nationalist party, Marine Le Pen, is calling for a ban not only of Muslim headscarves but also the wearing of the kippah – or Jewish skullcap – in public.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Le Pen called for religious headwear to be banned “in stores, on public transport and on the streets.”
AFP reports on this latest controversy over religious tolerance in France, already rocked once in recent days by the publishing of offensive drawings depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in X-rated positions:
Asked whether the ban should apply to the Jewish skullcap, known as the kippah or yarmulke, as well as Muslim headwear, she said: “It is obvious that if the veil is banned, the kippah is banned in public as well.”
Le Pen, who shocked the French elite by winning almost 18% in the first round of this year’s presidential vote, also repeated calls for bans on public prayers, kosher and halal foods in schools and foreign government financing of mosques in France.
President Francois Hollande denounced her comments, saying: “Everything that tears people apart, opposes them and divides them is inappropriate, and we must apply the rules, the only rules that we know, the rules of the Republic and secularism.”
Condemnation from France’s Jewish and Muslim leaders also came quickly:
Richard Prasquier, who heads France’s main Jewish council CRIF, said the statement showed there were “secular fanatics just as there are religious fanatics.”
“Obviously, I am hostile to both,” he said.
The main Muslim council CFCM said the far-right icon wanted to “set up a totalitarian regime in France.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency explains that Le Pen has long “supported a ban on Muslim headscarves, niqabs and burkas,” but the addition of banning the Jewish religious symbol was new. The wearing of conspicuous religious symbols – including large crosses as well as Muslim and Jewish symbols - is already banned in French public schools. France has also banned the public wearing of full Muslim veils.
Because of their experience under the Nazi regime in World War II, French Jews are particularly sensitive to any hint of their religious ritual being outlawed. JTA quotes the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt:
"Her suggestion of a ban on wearing a kipah in public takes us straight back to the times of state-sponsored anti-Semitism under the Vichy regime," he said. "Any sane politician will disqualify these comments as total madness and profoundly insulting to the French ideals of freedom of expression.”
There has been a debate recently in conservative Jewish circles over the how advisable it has been to create partnerships with the populist, nationalistic parties that have cropped up around Europe amidst the challenges posed by multiculturalism and an emergence of radical Islam on the continent. The thought was – with a rise in anti-Semitic acts carried out by Muslim immigrants to Europe – alliances should be forged where there is some common ground.
Dr. Amiel Ungar – an Israeli political science professor and occasional spokesman for Jewish settlers - tackled the dilemma in an op-ed in Israel National News on Sunday. He writes:
However, by equating the need for a ban on the Jewish kippa (skullcap) to a ban on the Muslim veil in public Le Pen showed that in order to circumscribe the Muslim population she would be prepared to sacrifice the interest of Jews, even though the record of Jewish integration in France is totally at variance with what has happened with Islam.
Le Pen herself admitted this when she sought to clarify her remarks in an interview with Le Monde, where she first proposed suppressing the kippa in the public space. Speaking on TF1 television, the National Front leader said "the kippa does not pose a problem in our country" However, she called upon French Jewry to make "this little effort, the small sacrifice" to put everybody on an equal footing and rebut the charge that a ban on the veil represented Islamophobia.
Geert Wilders who heads the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands also surprised his Jewish allies in the U.S. and abroad when it was learned his party was supporting a ban on ritual slaughter – which would include the production of kosher meat in the Netherlands.
Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was so distraught over this, he wrote a strongly-worded letter to Wilders:
"It is obvious that one cannot be at the same time a friend of Israel and the Jewish people and on the other hand support an anti-Jewish law," Metzger wrote.
"By denying Jews to live according to the Torah you will eventually force them to leave the Netherlands where they enjoyed religious freedom for centuries."
Metzger wrote that he was "shocked and upset to learn that your party once again has adopted a total ban on ritual slaughter in its platform."
"This is the classical anti-Semitic way our rites have been targeted and demonized throughout history," he wrote.
Prof. Ungar in his op-ed equates Wilders’ position to French politician Le Pen’s, suggesting that the ban on kosher slaughter is just another “small sacrifice” being asked of Jews in order to make more palatable the ban on Muslim halal meat.