France’s National Front Suspends Jean-Marie Le Pen

Far-right party leaves ultimate decision on ex-leader’s membership to general assembly

Jean-Marie Le Pen leaves the National Front headquarters in Nanterre on Monday.
Jean-Marie Le Pen leaves the National Front headquarters in Nanterre on Monday. Photo: LEJEUNE/ZUMA PRESS

The move Monday deepens the elderly firebrand’s rift with a new generation of National Front members led by his daughter, Marine Le Pen.

She has become one of the country’s most prominent politicians in large part by blaming its economic woes on mainstream parties and the European Union.

On Monday, Ms. Le Pen convened a special committee of party officials to consider disciplinary action against her 86-year-old father after he gave interviews to French media expounding on his positions on the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation of France.

The committee stopped short of immediately ejecting Mr. Le Pen—a step some of Ms. Le Pen’s allies were seeking. Instead, his future membership will be decided at the National Front’s next general assembly, which is expected within three months, a party spokesman said.

Asked on Monday whether he would consider retiring from politics, Mr. Le Pen responded: “You’d have to kill me.”

Ms. Le Pen has long been trying to steer National Front away from the extreme rhetoric her father deployed to fuel the movement’s rise in earlier decades.

Her strategy has helped the party attract new supporters across France—chalking up a string of victories in local elections and positioning Ms. Le Pen as a presidential contender in 2017.

But it has also made it harder for her to avoid publicly clashing with her father, who retains a loyal following among National Front hard-liners.

Last month, Mr. Le Pen repeated comments he made more than 25 years ago, describing Nazi gas chambers as a “detail” of World War II history.

Mr. Le Pen then told far-right publication Rivarol that he never regarded Marshal Philippe Pétain—a French military leader who was convicted of treason after he collaborated with the Germans in occupied France—as a traitor.

The comments left Ms. Le Pen in a political bind as key lieutenants began to demand his dismissal. National Front’s vice president Florian Philippot said the remarks showed Mr. Le Pen’s break with party ranks was “definitive.”

On Sunday, Ms. Le Pen delivered her strongest rebuke of her father yet, accusing him on French television of trying to harm her directly.

“His recent actions are unacceptable. I perceive them as a malicious act against the National Front and me,” Ms. Le Pen said. “I feel like he just can’t bear the fact that the National Front continues to exist without him at its helm.”

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