French president of the Front National Far-Right party and candidate to the French 2012 presidential election Marine Le Pen in Rome on Oct. 22, 2011.
Credit: Alberto Pizzoli

France's far-right party has traditionally been linked with xenophobia and anti-Semitism. That may be changing. The party, now under the leadership of its founder's daughter, Marine Le Pen, is reportedly looking to court the Jewish vote.

Le Pen, who took over as head of the Front National party in the beginning of 2011, has been working to modernize the party and purge it of its most anti-Semitic members, according to Tablet Magazine.

She has "made a series of dramatic overtures to the Jewish community," including posing for a photograph with Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations when she hosted a gathering at the UN, University of Houston professor and author Robert Zaretsky wrote in Tablet, which covers Jewish news and culture.

Le Pen will have to work hard to distance herself from her family's anti-Semitic reputation. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, famously called the Nazi's concentrations camps “a detail of World War II history.”

The Jewish community in France is reportedly split on whether to view Le Pen as someone who genuinely wants to engage with French Jews, or as a politician working to disguise her party's latent anti-Semitism.

Zaretsky writes that a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in France may be pushing the Jewish community to the political right.

Against this background, Le Pen’s effort to seduce the French Jewish community takes on even greater significance. It is only by channeling popular fear and loathing at Muslims that the Front National has made room under its “republican” umbrella for its previous bête noire: the Jews.

GlobalPost's Isabelle Roughol wrote last month that Le Pen is "striving for a softer image" as she tries to bring her party into mainstream French politics ahead of the presidential election.

Marine Le Pen is presenting a softer, more modern face, in an attempt to capitalize on widespread discontent over France’s conservative alternative, incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“Her whole strategy is to ‘un-demonize’ the Front National,” Mael Thierry, a journalist for the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur who covers the Front National, told Roughol.

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