(JTA) — President Emmanuel Macron of France praised a Nazi collaborator and defended his plan to honor him, sparking the first major disagreement between mainstream French Jewish community leaders and Macron since his election last year.
On Wednesday, Macron called Philippe Petain “a great soldier” in speaking to reporters amid criticism over his intention to pay homage to Petain among other World War I fighters at a ceremony Sunday. The war ended 100 years ago this month.
Petain became a de facto puppet ruler under Nazi Germany’s occupation of France from 1940 until its defeat in World War II. His administration oversaw the deportation to death camps of tens of thousands of French Jews for the Nazis. Petain died in prison in the 1950s.
“I am appalled that such a man could be honored,” Francis Kalifat, the president of the main Jewish umbrella group CRIF, said Wednesday in an interview with RJC radio. “This is the man who was responsible for the deportation of French Jews, and notably at the Vel d’Hiv” stadium in July 1942.
Macron is a centrist politician favored by many Jews and reviled by many French nationalists for his progressive views, including on colonialism. Last year he called France’s colonial past a “crime against humanity.”