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‘Anti-Semitic image of France unjust’: Chirac

PARIS, Feb 13 (AFP) – President Jacques Chirac said in an interview with an Israeli newspaper published Friday that his country is being unfairly criticised in Israel as anti-Semitic while France is leading a “tireless struggle” against such discrimination.

“France works relentlessly to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism,” he told Yedioth Aharonoth in an interview days before a visit by Israeli President Moshe Katsav.

 “Israeli criticism of anti-Semitism in Europe singles out France,” he said.

“I am surprised at this. I am told that in the streets of Tel Aviv, in newspaper cartoons and in conversations, the image of France as an anti-Semitic country is gradually spreading. These caricatures deeply hurt French people.

“No, France is not an anti-Semitic country. But we must remain highly vigilant. With the government, we lead a tireless struggle against anti-Semitic language and acts,” he said.

He acknowledged there has been a “resurgence of anti-Semitic acts” in Europe in the past three years, which he termed “revolting and unacceptable” and which he linked to the Middle East conflict.

“People of Muslim descent across Europe react to events in the Middle East, and more specifically to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a fact.”

Last month, Israel’s Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky described the situation for Jews in France as “very problematic”.

While anti-Semitic incidents across the globe fell by almost half last year to 983 from 1,979 in 2002, Sharansky said, they doubled in France to 141 from 77, figures disputed by French officials.

A tough new law against racially- and religiously-motivated attacks came into force last year, and the French government ordered even stronger measures to protect Jewish sites after a fire-bombing of a Jewish school in the Paris suburbs last November.

In the interview with Yedioth Aharonoth, Chirac also reaffirmed his opposition to the route of Israel’s West Bank separation barrier

“Israel is entitled to exercise its right to legitimate self-defence and security. But the chosen route for the barrier, which diverges from the Green Line, dispossesses thousands of Palestinians of their land…”

He said the barrier will thus “trigger more frustration and anger.”

The Israeli government insists the barrier is vital to the security needs of Israel in the wake of a string of suicide attacks since the start of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000.

But the Palestinians have argued that its route, which often juts deep into their farmlands inside the West Bank, is proof it is an attempt to pre-empt the borders of their promised future state.


                                                              Subject: France news