Anne-Sophie Leclere has been suspended by France’s far-right, anti-immigrant National Front party after she made racially inflammatory comments by comparing a black cabinet minister to a monkey. Leclere posted a photo on Facebook of France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira — a black woman originally from French Guiana — next to a photograph of an ape. The Facebook post also showed an infant monkey with a caption "18 months" next to a picture of Taubira, with an underlined caption “now.” The offending image has apparently been removed from Leclere’s Facebook account.

However, Leclere also told the French TV channel France-2: “I prefer to see her [Taubira] swinging [from] a tree than to see her in government,” while calling the minister a “savage.” Al-Jazeera reported that Leclere will now be prohibited from running in elections for the northern municipality of Rethel (Ardennes) in March, according to National Front spokesman Nicholas Bay. Bay added that Leclere may lose her membership in the Party.

Al Jazeera reported that Leclere also slurred homosexuals by posting the following message on Facebook: “Homo, don’t forget: you have one father AND one mother. NO! to gay marriage.”

According to French media, Leclere issued a bizarre explanation of sorts for her remarks. “I have friends who are black,” she said, adding that her comments had "nothing to do with racism.”

The National Front, now led by Marine Le Pen, the daughter of founder Jean Marie Le Pen, has long espoused racialist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. But Marine, who performed surprisingly well in the last presidential elections, has made an effort to soften the party’s strident image. Punishing and removing Leclere would be part of this ‘reform’ movement.

Yassir Kazar, a French-Moroccan and an immigrant rights advocate, told Al Jazeera: “What can we learn from this? You can see a contrast between what the leaders of the [Front] are really thinking and what they show us. This is actually the strength of the National Front: They understand that if they want to win, they have to choose their words. But you see here what the members are really thinking.” Given France’s deepening economic malaise and what is perceived to be a failure by the ruling Socialists to alleviate the misery, Kazar said, more French people are moving to the National Front, even if they don’t agree with its racialist views.

The treatment of Taubira in France follows a similar campaign of racial hatred that has been directed at Italy’s first black cabinet minister, Congolese-born Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge. Kyenge has been called an “orangutan” by far-right Italian lawmakers and even had a banana thrown at her during a public appearance.

Kyenge was named to the government ministry by Prime Minister Enrico Letta in April, making her the first black cabinet member in the country’s history. The 49-year-old doctor has endured a steady stream of abuse from extreme right-wing Italians, and even anonymous death threats, underlying the country’s deep divisions over race and immigration.

Among other transgressions, Kyenge has been called (by right-wing Northern League members) a “Congolese monkey” and a member of “bonga bonga government." Kyenge and soccer star Mario Balotelli are the two most prominent Italians of African descent, and both have been subjected to unrelenting racist abuse. During a press conference at the Foreign Press Bureau in Rome, Kyenge, who has lived in Italy for 30 years, asserted that she is not afraid. "The insults and threats against me are because I'm in a visible position now," she said. "But they're really threats against anyone who resists racism, who resists violence."