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PARIS – A tempest has been unleashed upon the House of Le Pen, the seat of France's rising far right, with the wounded patriarch and founder of the National Front lashing out at his political heir and daughter in a feud over an anti-Semitic smear.
The public dressing-down of Jean-Marie Le Pen shows how far his daughter, Marine Le Pen, is prepared to go make the party a cornerstone of the French political landscape and loft her into her dream job, the presidency.
"My daughter has put a knife in my back," the nearly 86-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen said after being banished from the anti-immigration party's website Tuesday and entombed in a wall of silence by party officials including his daughter.
"If I piss them off, they have only to kill me," Le Pen told a cultural publication, Les Inrockuptibles. "I will not commit suicide."
The Shakespearean-like drama began over the weekend after Le Pen made a remark in a video on his weekly blog widely interpreted as a derogatory allusion to the Holocaust. Referring to artists who've said they won't perform in French towns run by the National Front — namely actor-singer Patrick Bruel, who is Jewish — Le Pen said, "We'll put a batch in the oven the next time."
Marine Le Pen called her father's remark a "political mistake." For critics, it was a light reprimand for a man who has been convicted numerous times for anti-Semitic statements and racism. But on Tuesday night, a top party official, lawyer Wallerand de Saint Just, announced that Le Pen's blog would no longer appear.
With the free rein of a blog, the National Front's founding father risks posing an "important danger" to Marine Le Pen, who served as director of the site, Saint Just said. That, too, changed.
"We are taking precautions," he said.
Le Pen denies his remark was intended as anti-Semitic, and in a statement said those who think so are "political enemies or imbeciles."
"On an emotional level, I'm very hurt," he told news weekly Le Point.
The feud spills beyond the tightly knit family to the goals of Marine Le Pen. The 46-year-old National Front leader, in charge since 2011, aspires to the French presidency and is working to put together a powerful extreme-right group in the European Parliament.
She led the anti-EU party to victory in European elections last month, after her party made significant gains in municipal elections two months earlier.
Her successes have been due in part to transforming the National Front from a pariah, whose supporters often lied about voting for it, into an acceptable political alternative to the governing Socialists and conservative rivals. While she rants against Muslim immigrants, she has come down hard on references to anti-Semitism.
Le Pen, bombastic and charismatic and known for skidding into controversy, has been under watch as the party refashions its image. On one occasion, he caused a minor panic after a news conference by Marine Le Pen as he held forth with a bevy of journalists. His frank talk sent officials, their eyes rolling, scurrying in to quiet him.
Now, he refuses to fade quietly away.
Le Pen warned on Tuesday night that the new, young, and more politically correct party leaders who were hand-picked by Marine Le Pen "are shooting themselves in the foot" — a clear reference to the risk he thinks his daughter will run if she distances his old guard coterie — and whose votes she needs.
The destinies of Le Pen the elder and his daughter, whom he dubbed as his successor, appear bound by both heartstrings and politics, making a showdown appear unlikely.
The elder Le Pen has spent the past half-century as France's most contested political leader, but has the full support of its old guard. He was easily re-elected to the European Parliament, winning a race in the southeast with nearly eight percentage points more than his closest contender.
In a dig at his daughter, Le Pen derided a National Front grouping she created — the Blue Marine Rally — as a "strange formation without substance." The gentler Rally has served as a conduit for support by voters who are not prepared to be card-carrying party members.
The feud is more complicated because the party is a family enterprise. Marine Le Pen lives with her three children on his estate. Marion Marechal-Le Pen — the 24-year-old granddaughter of the party founder, and Marine's niece — is one of the party's two deputies in the National Assembly.
Marine Le Pen, while remaining silent herself, has called out the troops to explain what party vice-president Florian Philippot has played down as "artificial argument."
Jean-Marie Le Pen says he will simply transfer his weekly blog onto his personal site, and insists that as the party's honorary "president for life," he cannot be expelled.
Follow Elaine Ganley at https://twitter.com/Elaine-Ganley