Pun by French far-right party founder slammed as anti-Semitic

Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's National Front political party founder delivers a speech during a campaign rally before the European Parliament elections in Marseille, May 20, 2014. Anti-racism campaigners reacted with outrage on Sunday to an appare
Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's National Front political party founder delivers a speech during a campaign rally before the European Parliament elections in Marseille, May 20, 2014. Anti-racism campaigners reacted with outrage on Sunday to an apparent anti-Semitic pun by France's former far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - Anti-racism campaigners reacted with outrage on Sunday to an apparent anti-Semitic pun by France's former far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

SOS Racisme denounced as "the most anti-Semitic filth" a pledge by the founder of the National Front (FN) party to put his critics in their place using a pun suggesting Nazi gas chambers.

The remark was contained in a video clip posted on the FN website and since removed.

In the video, Mr Le Pen railed against a number of critics including pop star Madonna and Yannick Noah, the French singer and former tennis champion.

When asked about another one - French singer Patrick Bruel, who is Jewish - Mr Le Pen said he would be part of "a batch we will get next time," using the word "fournee" for "batch", evoking the word "four" ("oven").

SOS Racisme said it would file a complaint "in the coming days" against Mr Le Pen, whose daughter Marine took over as FN leader in 2011.

Another group, the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples, also said it would lodge a complaint, calling Jean-Marie Le Pen "an authentic anti-Semite".

Mr Le Pen, who has had multiple convictions for inciting racial hatred and denying crimes against humanity, once described Nazi gas chambers as a "detail" of history.

On Sunday, he denied any anti-Semitic overtones in the remark.

"The word 'fournee' that I used obviously has no anti-Semitic connotation, except for political enemies or idiots," he said.

Mr Le Pen has used similar wordplay in the past to make light of gas chambers used by the Nazis in World War II. In 1988, he referred to a Jewish minister named Michel Durafour as "Durafour-crematoire". In French, the word "four-crematoire" means crematorium.

Under Marine Le Pen, the FN is looking to rid itself of a reputation for racism and anti-Semitism in order to broaden its appeal. The party triumphed in European Union elections last month, winning 25 percent of the vote.