France’s highest criminal court overturned a decision of the Paris court of appeals, which had acquitted Eric Zemmour of the offense of “disputing crimes against humanity.” At issue is the far-right polemicist’s claim that Philippe Pétain had “saved” French Jews.
Zemmour will be tried again on these charges before a different court of appeals.
To fully understand the terms of this legal and historical debate, one needs to go back to the statements Zemmour made in 2019 during a discussion on CNews television with writer Bernard-Henri Lévy. “You once (…) dared to say that Pétain had saved French Jews. That is a monstrosity, that is revisionism,” Lévy said.
Zemmour replied that he should “specify” that he was talking about “French” Jews. Lévy repeated: “That is a monstrosity, that is revisionism,” to which Zemmour replied: “Once again, it’s the truth.”
In its much-scrutinized decision, the Paris court of appeals ruled in May 2022, that the offense of “disputing crimes against humanity” had not been committed, as “the remarks (…), while potentially offensive to the families of deportees (…), are not intended to dispute or undermine, even marginally, the number of victims of deportation or the policy of extermination in the concentration camps.” It added that Pétain had not been “prosecuted for one or more crimes against humanity as defined by Article 6 of the Statute of the International Military Tribunal annexed to the London Agreement of August 8, 1945.”
In response to this decision, the public prosecutor at the Paris Court of Appeals and five anti-racist associations – SOS-Racisme, Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP), J’accuse… ! Action Internationale pour la justice (“I accuse… ! International Action for Justice”, AIPJ), International League Against Racism and Antisemitism (Licra) – lodged appeals with the highest criminal court.
The Court of Cassation has overturned the court of appeals’ reasoning. In its view, the remarks in question can constitute the offense of “disputing crimes against humanity,” “even if they concern a person who has not been convicted of a crime against humanity” [in this case, Pétain]. Also, the Court of Cassation deemed that the court of appeals should have considered that Zemmour, in his statement “Once again, it’s the truth,” was repeating the remarks to the effect that Pétain had “saved French Jews.”
The Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) welcomed the Court of Cassation’s decision and congratulates the work of the associations that appealed.