Jesse Jackson left with bad taste after dinner with Le Pen

How did US civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson end up having dinner with France's disgraced former far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen?

Jesse Jackson left with bad taste after dinner with Le Pen
Photo: AFP

US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson voiced “disgust” on Wednesday at the ideas of French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le
Pen, after the surprise revelation that they had dined together in Paris.

The pair traded tense Twitter posts after the National Front firebrand posted a picture of them at a restaurant in the French capital at the weekend.

“I did not know him, I've never met with him before, and I find his ideas xenophobic and repulsive,” Jackson told AFP, seeking to explain what he said was an inadvertent encounter.

Le Pen and his wife Jany “were invited by the other hosts at the dinner. It was not at all a political meeting,” said Jackson, in France for events commemorating the abolition of slavery.

Le Pen tweeted a first photo of the two men at a Moroccan restaurant, along with a note apparently handwritten by Jackson reading: “May 8-'16. Jean-Marie, (wife) Jany Le Pen, Keep Hope Alive, Continue”.

“Keep Hope Alive” was a catchphrase Jackson used during his unsuccessful 1988 bid for the US presidency.

Jackson responded with a tweet two hours later saying: “Did not know you were coming to dinner. Never met you before. Do not share your beliefs.”

The 87-year-old co-founder of the National Front party followed up with another picture in which a smiling Jackson is sitting at a table between him and his wife.

It was accompanied by the tweet: “Attention media who speak of 'imagined dinner'”, with the hashtag #desinformation” — French for disinformation.

Jackson, 74, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with entrepreneurs, said: “If I had known he was who he is, I would have left out of my disgust with some of his policies… I find the ideas of xenophobia and anti-Semitism repugnant and very unhelpful to making a peaceful world.”

He said he felt “betrayed” at the portrayal of the dinner Sunday “as if it were a stage for some relationship”, adding:

“Those who tweeted out the meeting… deceived me”.

Jackson added: “My preoccupation was with the slavery commemoration.”

The Baptist minister attended events on Tuesday alongside French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls marking France's slavery remembrance day.

He laid a wreath at the tomb of Victor Schoelcher, who led France's abolitionist movement.

'There was no trap'

An aide to Le Pen told AFP that Jackson “knew he was going to dinner with Jean-Marie Le Pen and who he was.”

He added: “There was no trap, and there was even an agreement with their mutual Moroccan friends that the dinner was not private. The photos were taken by a professional photographer.”

Le Pen was kicked out of the anti-immigration FN for refusing to tone down racist and anti-Semitic comments.

The Le Pen aide said Jackson “was often accused of anti-Semitism, accusations that he shares with Mr Le Pen. Maybe his entourage is worried” over the publicity from the dinner.

Jackson was criticised in the early 1980s for his ties to black nationalist leader Louis Farrakhan, known for his anti-Jewish rhetoric.

He also apologised in a speech before national Jewish leaders for using a pejorative term for Jews in remarks to a Washington Post reporter in 1984.

Le Pen was fined €30,000 ($34,000) last month for repeating his view that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of history.

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France’s far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France's far-right National Front party, refused to submit to police questioning last month as part of an EU funding inquiry, claiming immunity as a European Parliament lawmaker, his adviser said Sunday.

France's far-right patriarch refused questioning in EU fraud case

Le Pen is one of several party MEPs suspected of using European Parliament funds provided for assistants to pay more than 20 France-based party staff.

If convicted, the party could be ordered to repay €7 million ($8.2 million), and the judges pre-emptively seized the subsidies.

An EU tribunal has already determined that Le Pen must reimburse €320,000.

But when police from France's anti-corruption squad tried to question him last month at his office just outside Paris, he claimed MEP immunity and ordered them to leave.

“He was prepared to receive them, but they had such arrogant attitudes which Jean-Marie Le Pen refused to accept,” his adviser Lorrain de Saint Affrique told AFP, confirming a report in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Le Pen, 90, sits as an independent after being thrown out of his party by his daughter Marine Le Pen in 2015 for saying the Nazi gas chambers were a mere “detail” of history.

He has also often made disparaging statements against Muslims and Roma which have earned him a string of hate speech convictions.

His daughter has renamed the party the National Rally in an effort to shed its xenophobic and anti-Semitic image.

The EU funding inquiry has led French judges to withhold €2 million of public subsidies for the party, a move which Marine Le Pen has denounced as a “death sentence”.

Without the funds, she warns the party will be bankrupt by September.