19 July 2004
The Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday urged Jews to flee France to escape a rising tide of anti-Semitism. While acknowledging that the French government was fighting racial violence, Mr Sharon warned of "the spread of the wildest anti-Semitism" in France.
Speaking to visiting American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, Mr Sharon said: "If I have to advocate to our brothers in France, I will tell them one thing - 'Move to Israel, as early as possible'. I say that to Jews all around the world, but there [in France] I think it's a must and they have to move immediately." He added: "In France today, about 10 per cent of the population are Muslims ... that gets a different kind of anti-Semitism, based on anti-Israeli feelings and propaganda."
France is home to Western Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities with 600,000 Jews and five million Muslims. But it has been troubled by attacks on Jewish people and property in recent years, some of it blamed on youths of North African origin angered by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The latest French Interior Ministry figures show 510 anti-Jewish acts or threats in the first six months of 2004 - compared to 593 for all of last year.
In Paris, the Foreign Ministry was clearly offended by Mr Sharon's appeal. A spokesman, Herve Ladsous, said: "We have immediately made contact with Israeli authorities to ask them for explanations about these unacceptable statements."
French Jewish leaders interviewed on France-2 Television said Mr Sharon's remarks were unhelpful. "These comments do not bring calm, peace and serenity that we all need," said Patrick Gaubert, president of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism. "I think Mr Sharon would have done better to have kept quiet."
Theo Klein, honorary president of Crif, an umbrella group representing French Jewish organisations, said Mr Sharon should let the French Jewish community take care of its own problems. Mr Klein said: "It's not up to him to decide for us."
The French President Jacques Chirac made anti-Semitism and racism a main theme in his Bastille Day address to the nation last week.
He said: "Discrimination, anti-Semitism, racism - all kinds of racism are spreading insidiously. A France, true to its history, its roots and its culture, is a France capable of better, a France which rejects selfishness, exclusion and discrimination. That is the France I believe in."
There has been a rash of anti-Semitic and racist incidents in France recently, including the desecration with swastikas and neo-Nazi slogans of several Jewish and Muslim cemeteries in Alsace and the destruction of a frieze painted by Jewish children in a wartime transit camp near Perpignan.