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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 13:05 GMT
France Jewish stance hailed as attacks fall
Caroline Wyatt
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

French President Jacques Chirac's hard line on anti-Semitic attacks has been widely welcomed, following this week's emergency cabinet meeting on anti-racism measures and boosting security at Jewish property.

Aftermath of Jewish school attack
Last weekend's Jewish school attack sparked urgent measures
The government has now launched a new campaign against anti-Semitism in the wake of an arson attack on a Jewish school in a Paris suburb at the weekend.

Mr Chirac announced a 4bn urban regeneration programme, to be targeted at predominantly Muslim areas of French cities, where there's been a sharp increase in anti-Jewish sentiment and regular attacks - both verbal and physical - on Jewish school-children.

Most attacks come from young disaffected Muslims, mainly of north African origin, who live side by side with the more established Jewish communities in the suburbs.

The rise of intolerance - against Jews as much as against Muslims - makes the fight against anti-Semitism an urgent obligation
Le Monde editorial
The centrist Le Monde newspaper praised President Jacques Chirac for calling the ministerial meeting.

"Condemnation, vigilance, solidarity: the strength of the presidential reaction is salutary," it proclaimed in an editorial. "The rise of intolerance - against Jews as much as against Muslims - makes the fight against anti-Semitism an urgent obligation."

Le Monde's editorial also claims that this "new" form of anti-Semitism has become more of a problem in France over the last three years - starting around the time the second Palestinian Intifada was launched.

It blames the evolution of a more virulent strain of Islam, while warning that France's long-standing problems with an anti-Semitic far right should not be forgotten.

Attacks falling

Yet it highlights a fact that many have failed to mention - the news that the number of attacks on Jews in France has actually gone down this year.

Jan-Aug 2002 - 647
Jan-Aug 2003 - 247
Source: French Interior Ministry
Last year saw the highest number of crimes against Jews in France, counting attacks on Jewish people and property such as schools, synagogues and cemeteries. One synagogue in Marseille was burned to the ground.

This year, the French Interior Ministry says the number of attacks has markedly decreased.

Figures from the first eight months of 2003 show 247 anti-Jewish attacks on people or property, compared to 647 in the same period of 2002.

On a Europe-wide basis, 2002 also showed France having the worst problem with anti-Semitism in Europe, with 19 extremely serious attacks (such as arson, knifing, stabbing and shooting) reported in France, as opposed to much lower numbers reported in Germany, Holland, Denmark, and even Russia.

But Le Monde also made clear that a fall in the number of attacks did not mean the issue could be ignored, describing the taunts and obscene gestures suffered by some attending the ultra-orthodox Jewish school that was set on fire.

Palestinian connection

French officials agree that most anti-Semitic attacks seen in the past two or three years have been committed by Muslim youths, angered by Israeli-Palestinian violence and taking out their frustrations on local Jewish communities.

Most French newspapers admit that France is only just beginning to acknowledge what a big task lies ahead in trying to integrate the country's second- and third-generation immigrants
France has about five million Muslims among its 60-million population, mostly of North African origin, many of whom feel excluded from mainstream French society.

Jews, meanwhile, number about 600,000.

The unemployment levels among the community are double or triple the already high 10% unemployment rate for the country as a whole.

Officials say such developments have contributed to a "new" anti-Semitism, as distinct from the older anti-Jewish stand by right-wing extremists or the "classical" anti-Semitism of the Roman Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council launched a reconciliation with the Jews.

Most French newspapers admit that France is only just beginning to acknowledge what a big task lies ahead in trying to integrate the country's second- and third-generation immigrants more firmly into French society, and nurture tolerance among the different newer ethnic groups.

'Problem exaggerated'

Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders have welcomed the government's initiative, but some are worried that the extent of the fear among Jews in France may have been overstated by the Israeli Ambassador to France, Nissim Zvili, who claimed up to 2,500 Jews were emigrating each year.

The head of France's Jewish community, Roger Cukierman, of the Crif umbrella group of Jewish organisations, has told French radio that Mr Zvili may have exaggerated the situation in the hope of gaining more immigrants for Israel.

But he added that some left-wing criticism in France of Israel's tough line against the Palestinians had crossed the line and become anti-Jewish.

Israel has long been angered by what it sees as a too pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab line among many French officials.

Mr Chirac's urgent actions were certainly not just aimed at a domestic audience: it's clear the Elysee hopes that the message that France is taking anti-Semitism seriously will also be received loud and clear in Washington and in Israel itself.

France vows to fight hate crime
17 Nov 03  |  Europe
Rabbi warns of race hate attacks
17 Nov 03  |  Middle East

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