Chirac calls anti-Semitism cabinet

17th November 2003, Comments 0 comments

President Jacques Chirac summoned an urgent cabinet meeting on France's growing wave of anti-Semitism on Monday, following a weekend arson attack that caused serious damage to a Jewish school in the Paris suburbs.

Chirac calls anti-Semitism cabinet
 
PARIS, Nov 17 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac summoned an urgent cabinet meeting on France's growing wave of anti-Semitism on Monday, following a weekend arson attack that caused serious damage to a Jewish school in the Paris suburbs.

Chirac was to assemble Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Justice Minister Dominique Perben and Education Minister Luc Ferry for an afternoon meeting focussing largely on the protection of Jewish establishments, his office said.

The meeting was due to start at 4:00 pm.

After that he was to receive leaders of the Jewish commmunity, including chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk, the director of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions (CRIF) Haim Musicant and the president of the Central Consistory Jean Kahn.

The first floor of the Orthodox Merkaz Hatorah boys' school in a former factory building at Gagny east of the capital was totally ravaged in the blaze that broke out early Saturday. Police said the fire had almost certainly been started deliberately.

Jewish leaders have been warning for more than a year of a growth of anti-Semitic tensions, especially in suburban areas of major French cities where Jews and Muslim immigrants from North Africa often live side-by-side.

While denying accusations from Israel and American Jewish figures that France has become an anti-Semitic country, the government fears that violence in the Middle East is fuelling resentment among young Arabs and creating a dangerous anti-Jewish feeling.

There are estimated to be around 500,000 Jews in France and around five million Muslims in an overall population of 60 million.

Chirac's decision to call a special cabinet session sent a message that he is seriously alarmed by Saturday's arson attack, which Sarkozy said was clearly an act of anti-Semitism.

A judicial investigation into the incident was opened, citing "wilful destruction committed as a result of a person's belonging to an ethnic group, nation, race or religion" - a crime introduced earlier this year which is punishable by 20 years in prison and EUR150,000 (USD 176,000) in fines.

Chirac won himself a favourable reaction from French Jews when he became the first president to acknowledge the country's complicity in the Holocaust, but many resent what they see as his bias in favour of Arabs in the Middle East and feel he wants to court France's big Muslim vote.

On Saturday the president issued a statement saying that "the French republic can tolerate no anti-Semitic act and schools more than any other place must be a place of tolerance and respect."

In February rising communal tensions led France's education ministry to launch a campaign to stamp out anti-Semitism and other types of racism in schools.

Israel's ambassador to France Nissim Zvili said Sunday that the "phenomenon of anti-Semitism in France has reached worrying proportions. There have been lots of attacks against Jews, against people and their possessions, and fear is becoming deep-rooted in the Jewish community."

"Many Jews in France are wondering about their future in this country," Zvili said, adding that between 2,000-2,500 Jews were now leaving France each year for Israel.

© AFP



Subject: French news



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