French far left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon responded to Labour’s general election defeat by accusing his country’s main Jewish federation Crif of being a group of arrogant sectarians who send out orders to politicians.
Mr Mélenchon wrote that Britain’s Chief Rabbi and “pro-Likud networks” had orchestrated a campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, adding that “unlike Corbyn”, he would never give in to Jewish groups.
His comments, which were backed by some of MPs in his France Unbowed party, were criticised by government officials.
“He (Corbyn) faced unsubstantiated, churlish antisemitism claims from England’s chief rabbi and pro-Likud networks,” Mr Mélenchon wrote, saying their accusations were one of the major reasons for Labour’s defeat.
“Instead of firing back, he spent his time apologising and making pledges. In both cases, he showed weakness.”
He continued by saying “Labour and Corbyn’s terrible defeat did not surprise me” and vowing to adopt an apparently opposite strategy.
“I will never give in. The pension reform, a liberal and German Europe, Green capitalism, bowing to the arrogant and sectarian dictates of the Crif: No! No means No!”
Crif’s president Francis Kalifat said he was shocked and surprised, and that the statement spread a Jewish conspiracy theory reminiscent of the ones used by the Vichy regime during the Second World War.
“What link is there between Crif and the British elections?” he asked.
The Jewish federation has long accused Mr Mélenchon of fuelling antisemitism on France’s far left through his accusations that Crif is being violent and sectarian.
Other government officials also criticised Mr Mélenchon’s remarks.
“Labour has long had a problem with antisemitism and that problem seems to have extended to the France Unbowed party” said Aurore Bergé, a spokeswoman for the French government.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner tweeted “Mr Mélenchon’s statements are shocking and inappropriate”, prompting Mr Mélenchon to reply that he was wooing Jewish voters ahead of the next election.
Some of his party’s officials have played down the comments, saying he meant to target all communal groups. Others attacked Crif and its leaders.
French MEP Manuel Bombard tweeted: “Mr Kalifat: you represent nothing but sectarians! You’re a political rival with no legitimacy. You have usurped your identity.”
Mr Mélenchon had significant political weight during the 2017 presidential election, obtaining almost 20 per cent of votes and finishing fourth behind centrist Emmanuel Macron, far right candidate Marine Le Pen and Conservative François Fillon.
But he has lost much of his momentum since then and has made several controversial statements, including an outburst against police officers searching his home and office in an investigation over political funding in October 2018.
He recently received a suspended prison sentence for that incident.