PARIS — Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right National Front, blamed a "pro-immigrant lobby" Friday for waging a campaign against him over his remarks about Nazi gas chambers.
In a statement to reporters at the National Assembly, Le Pen denied that he is racist or anti-Semitic and said that the one word detail, "abusively interpreted," was all that was needed "for the calumny to explode in an infernal din."
"I accuse the pro-immigrant lobby, a veritable anti-Le Pen union, of having organized and conducted this witch trial against me," he said.
Le Pen urged French Jews not to be frightened by "this campaign of lying," saying that "France has the same love for all of its sons, no matter what their race or religion."
In a radio interview Sunday, Le Pen referred to the Nazi gas chambers that were used to exterminate millions of Jews and others during World War II as a "minor detail" of history. The comment led to widespread condemnation and renewed accusations of racism.
Le Pen is running for president in next spring's elections. He has campaigned hard on anti-immigration issues and keeping "France for the French," and with it, French jobs. He often has been labeled a fascist, a racist and an anti-Semite.
"Scandalous, revolting, ignoble, unacceptable, detestable, monstrous, maleficent, abject, venomous, terrifying, these are the qualifications that have been conferred on me by journalists or politicians who preach moderation," he said.
Le Pen said he was asked during the radio interview if he believed there was a Jewish genocide in the gas chambers.
"I responded: 'There were many deaths, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of deaths, Jews and also non-Jews.'
"This response was clear and, for honest people, left no doubt about what I think of the martyrization of the Jewish people of Europe by the Nazis and about the condemnation that I have for this crime," Le Pen said.
He said his critics ignored that statement and focused on his comment "that the gas chambers were a 'detail in the history of the Second World War,' pretending to believe that this word was used in a pejorative sense."
Le Pen's statement seemed unlikely to halt the criticism.
One of the first to react was Jean-Jacques Queyranne, spokesman for the Socialist Party, who said "more than ever, we must denounce he who has made racism the basis of his electoral business."
"Mr. Le Pen has tried to camouflage his monstrous words of last Sunday," Queyranne said. "Nobody can be duped any longer."
Le Pen, whose party won 11% of the vote in last year's elections for the National Assembly, appeared to have been gaining support in recent months.