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Has Le Pen detoxified the French far-right?

A protester at Sunday’s march. Telmo Pinto/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

The mass demonstration against anti-Semitism in Paris on Sunday was meant to be an “apolitical” moment of national unity, says Solenn de Royer in Le Monde. Instead, the march will likely be remembered as a “before-and-after moment” for the far-right National Rally. In an obvious attempt to break away from the party’s anti-Semitic past, its MPs turned out in large numbers, including leader Marine Le Pen. Some commentators claim that their “symbolic relegation to the back of the procession” was a sign that National Rally remains “toxic”. But that’s wishful thinking. The party has become so mainstream now that several political figures, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, endorsed its presence “without batting an eyelid”. Le Pen “couldn’t have asked for more”.

Equally striking was the absence of Emmanuel Macron, who said he would join the march “in heart and in spirit” instead. Even the president’s staunchest supporters don’t understand his decision to stay away. He said he never takes part in such demonstrations, but his attitude is in stark contrast to that of his predecessors, François Mitterrand and François Hollande, who joined similar protests after a Jewish cemetery was desecrated by neo-Nazis in 1990 and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015. The fight against anti-Semitism is “not a divisive issue, but one of concord”. For a president who regularly calls for “national unity”, to skip the march was a missed opportunity. In France, we have a saying: Les absents ont toujours tort. “The absent are always wrong.”