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Former French prime minister Raymond Barre is once again under attack for remarks he made during an interview with the state-run radio station France Culture, in which he stated that "opposing the deportation of Jews from France was not a matter of national interest."
French and Israeli institutions, as well as many top French government officials, slammed Barre's comments and immediately distanced themselves from the former prime minister. These latest statements have provided the media, as well as several lobbies, with the ammunition needed in their long-standing attack on Barre as an anti-Semite.
Many influential political parties and figures have voiced their disapproval. The Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), led by presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy, described the remarks as shocking. Segolene Royal's Socialist Party echoed the overall disapproval of the comments, issuing a statement calling the remarks "unacceptable."
During the interview, Barre further stated that the French Jewish community had turned Vichy collaborator Maurice Papon into a "scapegoat." Papon, who died last month, was responsible for the deportation of 1,600 Jews and the confiscation of Jewish assets while he was a top official in the pro-Nazi Vichy government during the war.
According to Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Barre's comments were "the very attitude which prompted the collaboration of so many French officials in the implementation in France of the Nazi program for the annihilation of the Jewish people throughout Europe."
Zuroff added that Barre's "attempts to minimize" the guilt of French collaborators or "relativize" the guilt of the Nazis' willing French collaborators is proof that certain elements of French society continue to refuse to acknowledge the enormous share of French guilt in the fate of French Jewry during the Holocaust.
Barre's response is that since 1979 "there is a clique who has been out to make me an anti-Semite."
Barre, like Papon, benefited from the rise of Charles de Gaulle after World War II. De Gaulle once said that if all the French collaborators were to face responsibility for their roles in the war, France would have a depleted governing body. De Gaulle had pardoned many who had "suspicious" involvement with the Nazis during the war, and many of whom, including Papon and former president Francois Mitterrand, went on to have lengthy and decorated careers.
Barre previously upset Jewish communities when as prime minister he responded to the bombing of a Paris synagogue by Palestinian terrorists in October 1980, killing four passersby and wounding 22, by saying that "those who wanted to get their own back on Jews could have blown up the synagogue and Jews. But not at all, they launched a blind bomb attack and there were three French people, not Jews, that's a fact, not Jews. And that doesn't mean that Jews are not French."
Following the statements, Barre attacked the Jewish lobbies in France, accusing them of distorting his words for political gain. According to Barre, "the campaign undertaken by the Jewish lobby with the strongest links on the Left came from the fact that we were in an electoral climate. This didn't impress me and they can continue to repeat it."
Ellis Weintraub contributed to this report.
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