French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belka
French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-BelkaReuters

A far-right weekly has sparked a firestorm of controversy by describing France's new education minister as a "Moroccan Muslim" and calling the appointment of the 36-year-old rising star a "provocation."

Moroccan-born Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is the first woman in French history to hold the office of education minister, the latest step in a brilliant career for the telegenic protegee of President Francois Hollande.

But far-right magazine Minute splashed a picture of her on the cover of its latest issue that hit newsstands on Wednesday with the caption: "A Moroccan Muslim at the national education (ministry). The Najat Vallaud-Belkacem provocation."

It is not the first time the magazine has sparked outrage.

Earlier this year, it featured a cover picture of France's black Justice Minister Christiane Taubira and headlines which read: "Crafty as a monkey" and "Taubira gets her banana back."

In French, getting your banana back is roughly the equivalent of recovering the spring in your step.

The head of the ruling Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, called for the magazine to be sued.

"The front page of Minute is an incitement to hatred. It should be sued in court," he said in a statement.  

The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism described the cover as "shameful" and said those "spreading hate" had to be stopped.  

Vallaud-Belkacem herself, who already found herself targeted by the far-right when she was minister for women's rights, was sanguine about the controversy.

"I keep away from this type of debate which is irrelevant," she told French television late Tuesday.  

"However, I do think of those who are watching this spectacle" and could feel "contaminated," she added.

"In their name more than in my name, I would urge those on the right to take into account their responsibilities and to respect institutions and people," she said.

Vallaud-Belkacem was born in the Moroccan countryside but grew up in the suburbs of the northern city of Amiens before heading to Paris to study.  

She holds dual French and Moroccan nationality and has described herself as a "pure product of the Republic," an example of "happy integration" in a country which is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe.