France ‘tops anti-Semitism shame list’
JERUSALEM, Jan 25 (AFP) - Israel said Sunday that France had the dubious distinction of being the country with the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the world last year.
“The situation for Jews in France is very problematic,” said Natan Sharansky, Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, adding that the number of anti-Semitic events recorded in France had doubled in 2003.
He said 47 percent of all such incidents registered in western Europe took place in France, and urged immediate action by the authorities in Paris.
Sharansky presented statistics showing that the overall number of anti-Semitic incidents across the globe fell by almost half last year to 983 from 1,979 in 2002. By contrast, the number in France jumped to 141 in 2003 from 77.
“The French authorities have at their disposal one of the world’s best legal systems for dealing with racism and antisemitism, and they must apply it and take immediate measures,” he said.
There are estimated to be around 500,000 Jews in France and around five million Muslims in an overall population of 60 million.
Two weeks ago, French President Jacques Chirac and other French MPs met with a delegation of Israeli journalists to discuss allegations of anti-Semitism.
Media reports said the French leader assured them the authorities would do everything in their power to fight anti-Semitism, and declared that “all agression against the Jews was an agression against France”.
In November, Chirac ordered his government to draw up a monthly record of attacks on Jewish targets as part of its response to a growing climate of anti-Semitism in many high-immigration urban areas.
Jewish leaders have been warning for more than a year of a rise in tensions, especially in suburban areas of major French cities where Jews and Muslim immigrants from North Africa often live side-by-side.
Salai Meridor, director of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, said he detected a positive “change of rhetoric” used by French officials in recent months, but complained that it “came late”.
Meridor spoke of a “growing Islamisation” in Europe as a result of an increasing Muslim population.
“More and more French Jews believe that their future no longer lies in their country,” he added.
French government figures show the number of anti-Semitic attacks has gone down since a peak in 2002 after the start of the Palestinian intifada, but community leaders say this does not reflect the deteriorating climate and the constant petty abuse that goes unrecorded.
Sharansky also heaped criticism on what he called the “unprecedented demonisation of Israel”, notably by the media.
He said the government had decided to make January 27 a “national day against anti-Semitism” marking the date in 1945 when the Allies liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi extermination camp in Poland where more than a million Jews were killed.
Subject: France news