Vadim Rabinovich, a Ukrainian lawmaker and founder of the European Jewish Parliament (EJP), has been met with a backlash of condemnation in the European Jewish community after meeting on Wednesday with French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen leads France's National Front party, and remains the subject of concern for Jewish leaders despite her efforts to distance the party from its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has made numerous anti-Semitic statements such as calling gas chambers a "detail" of World War II. Her attempts to distance from her father have indeed led to a falling out between the two.
Nevertheless, the meeting between the two as part of a roundtable discussion in Strasbourg, France, led to outrage among several European Jewish leaders. At the meeting were ten representatives of the Europe of Nations and Freedom bloc of nationalist parties chaired by Le Pen. The bloc includes members of parties with a record of Holocaust denial and pro-Nazi sentiment.
In response, French Rabbi Levi Matusof resigned from the EJP's 120-member board, slamming the meeting as "opportunistic and inappropriate."
The European Jewish Congress (EJC), which claims to be a more legitimate representative of European Jewry than EJP, also responded with outrage.
EJC President Moshe Kantor condemned the meeting as "shocking in the extreme," adding, "it goes without saying that these people (EJP - ed.) are as unrepresentative of the vast majority of European Jews as this collective of Le Pen's MEPs is of the vast majority of European citizens."
"She is not her father"
For his part Rabinovich defended the decision to meet Le Pen, telling JTA in an interview that "only dialogue can lead to progress," and saying that "Le Pen has confirmed that anti-Semitism is not acceptable."
He added that Le Pen "is not her father. ...We have had a constructive dialogue where we accepted the need to combat anti-Semitism, and I believe she is sincere about this."
Despite his arguments, he was criticized by the European Jewish Association (EJA) as well on Thursday, which said in a statement that, "it is our opinion that Jewish organisations should refrain from giving a platform to those political groups seeking to spread messages of hate and to undermine our fundamental European values of tolerance and respect between nations, races and religions."
According to the EJA, such meetings not only "risk being exploited for media coverage, but, far from helping to further their attempts to counter the very real and ever-growing threat of anti-Semitism in our European societies, they actually risk magnifying the problem by attracting the animosity of the many critics of far-right groups, as well as those anti-Semitic groups themselves already seeking to target them."
"The European Jewish Association welcomes free and open dialogue with like-minded groups and individuals seeking to promote mutual respect and tolerance between communities," concluded the statement.