Israel insists 'no crisis' with France

20th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

JERUSALEM, July 20 (AFP) - Israel attempted Tuesday to soothe tensions with Paris after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's call for all Jews to flee France, the home of Europe's largest Jewish community, prompted Jacques Chirac's government to cold shoulder the premier.

JERUSALEM, July 20 (AFP) - Israel attempted Tuesday to soothe tensions with Paris after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's call for all Jews to flee France, the home of Europe's largest Jewish community, prompted Jacques Chirac's government to cold shoulder the premier.  

"There is no crisis between the two countries but rather a cultural misunderstanding which we must try hard from now on to dispel and give ourselves time for reflection," senior Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner told AFP.  

"For us, the prime minister's appeal to Jews throughout the world, and not only France, is one of the fundamental ideologies of the state of Israel, while the French have seen it as something else," added Pazner who is a former ambassador to Paris.  

"The prime minister had no intention of offending anyone and paid tribute to the firm action taken by President Chirac against anti-Semitism."  

Chirac's office issued a statement Monday night seeking "an explanation" of Sharon's comments on Sunday, when he urged all French Jews to move immediately to Israel in order to escape what he called the "spread of the wildest anti-Semitism."  

"(France) has let it be known that from today an eventual visit by the Israeli prime minister to Paris, for which no date had been set, would not be considered until such an explanation is forthcoming," it said.  

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, who had earlier described the comments as "unacceptable and intolerable", said Tuesday that he was still awaiting an explanation.   "As I speak, we have received no reply to our request for an explanation," he told Europe 1 radio.  

Describing the row with Israel as a "very serious misunderstanding," he said that it was "a matter of honour for our republic ... that each citizen is guaranteed the same protections, the same freedoms, whatever their religious belief."  

Another senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said however that despite what he called the "laudable efforts" of the French authorities "no one can deny that there has been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic aggression."  

France is home to Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities, estimated at 600,000 and five million respectively.  

According to French interior ministry statistics, the number of racist incidents has soared this year.   There were 135 physical acts -- vandalism, arson, assault, and attacks or attempted attacks -- against Jews in the first half of 2004, compared to 127 for all of 2003, according to the statistics.  

The row over Sharon's comment followed a recent spat between the two countries over Barnier's decision to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who has been boycotted and confined to his West Bank headquarters by Israel.  

Sharon himself told a group of visiting French diplomats and politicians at his office in Jerusalem that he "was very disappointed" by Barnier's visit.  

Pazner said that initial discussions about a visit by Sharon to France had taken place earlier this year during a trip by state President Moshe Katsav but "these discussions have been interrupted in the last few weeks and no date has been fixed."

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

 

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