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Renowned Nazi hunter in France advises Jews to choose far right over far left in elections

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PARIS (AP) — Days ahead of France’s crucial parliamentary elections, renowned Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld is sticking to his advice that if voters are faced with a duel between Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and a far-left competitor, they should choose the far right.

The advice from Klarsfeld, an 88-year-old Jewish historian who has dedicated his life to bringing fugitive Nazis to justice, goes against many other Jewish leaders and intellectuals in France who see fighting the National Rally as a top priority in Sunday’s runoff vote.

But Klarsfeld told The Associated Press in an interview at his Paris apartment that the far-left France Unbowed party has militant pro-Palestinian supporters and “antisemitic overtones,” while Le Pen’s party supports Israel and Jewish people.

“Marine Le Pen is the head of a party which supports Israel and supports the Jews,” Klarsfeld said in the interview Tuesday. “So we gave this advice to those who will be faced with this runoff between the far left and what used to be the far right, which for us is now a populist party, to vote for the right,” he said.

Klarsfeld shocked many people in France, including those in the Jewish community, when he first stated this position on French television earlier this month.

Klarsfeld said he himself will vote for President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance, but not all of the voters in the 577 French districts will have that option in Sunday’s run-off elections, where many will be able to choose only between a National Rally or a France Unbowed candidate.

The top three blocs are the anti-immigration, nationalist National Rally, Macron’s alliance and a broad leftist coalition that includes the Socialists, the greens and France Unbowed.

The National Rally fared the best in the first round, propelling the party and its allies closer than ever to the government. But Sunday’s outcome remains uncertain as other political parties are trying to block National Rally’s path. An unprecedented number of candidates who qualified for the runoff have stepped aside to favor the competitor they believe is most likely to win against a National Rally opponent.

“I fear the far left. The far left has a deep-seated hatred of Israel and has … militants who are pro-Palestinians,” Klarsfeld said, describing France Unbowed as “a violently anti-Israeli party with certain anti-Semitic overtones.”

France’s roughly half-million people of Jewish faith make up only a small portion of the country’s 66 million inhabitants, but they have been thrust into the electoral fray by the country’s bitter divisions over the Hamas-Israel war. Opposing camps in the legislative elections have hurled accusations of antisemitism at each other.

France Unbowed leaders have staunchly condemned the conduct of Israel’s war against Hamas and accused it of pursuing genocide against Palestinians. But they have strongly denied accusations of antisemitism.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, co-founder of the National Rally’s forerunner, the National Front, has multiple convictions for racism and antisemitism, including for repeatedly saying that Nazi gas chambers were “a detail” of WWII history. Pierre Bousquet, another founder, was a member of the French division of Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS.

Jean-Marie Le Pen was expelled from the party in 2015 as part of a makeover by his daughter and successor, Marine Le Pen, to make it palatable to mainstream voters.

Klarsfeld said he believes Marine Le Pen has transformed the party after expelling her father, embracing a French law that prohibits Holocaust denial and making pro-Jewish statements.

“We sincerely believe she’s sincere,” he said. “People change. We met Marine Le Pen and we got her to say and make statements that are totally pro-Jewish, that she accepts the Gayssot law, which is a law that protects Jews.”

Klarsfeld managed to escape the Gestapo in Nice as a child in 1943. His father was captured and deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. He never returned.

Together with his wife, Beate, “we have always fought for the defense of Jewish memory, for the prosecution of Nazi criminals, against the antisemitic extreme right and for persecuted Jews around the world,” Klarsfeld said.

The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, known as CRIF, has called on French voters “to mobilize to prevent the National Rally from coming to power by voting massively for candidates from democratic and republican parties, and to categorically refuse any compromise with France Unbowed.”

French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy expressed his “respect” for Klarsfeld and sadness at seeing his position. “Defeatism? Ill-advised? In any case, a political error. And, for those tempted to listen, a trap,” Levy wrote on X.

Klarsfeld said “if the National Rally don’t go in the direction I foresee, I’ll fight the National Rally and admit I was wrong.”

“But for now. I may be right, I may be wrong, but no one can prove me wrong,” he concluded.

Associated Press