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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
French editor quits in Israel row
West Bank barrier at Abu Did near Jerusalem
Menargues has written a book about the West Bank barrier
The head of news at a state-run French radio station has quit after causing an outcry with his criticism of Jews and the state of Israel.

Promoting a new book, Alain Menargues of Radio France Internationale (RFI) called Israel a "racist" state.

His comments earned censure from the foreign ministry and were condemned by journalists' unions.

The row came as France's foreign minister visited Israel on a fence-mending mission. Relations between the countries have recently been at a low.

Mr Menargues has written a book, called Sharon's Wall, about the barrier being built between Palestinian and Jewish communities in the West Bank.

Undeterred

While publicising it, he said on television: "You say Israel is a democratic state, let me rapidly add that it is also a racist state.... The law of return only concerns Jews. What is the basis of Zionism? It is to make a state for the Jews."

The foreign ministry said his assessment was "unacceptable".

Mr Menargues was undeterred.

"Israel is a country like any other and like the others it must be criticised. There is no exception in my vision of the world, no country is above international laws," he was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

Referring to Israel's West Bank barrier, Mr Menargues said: "I was very shocked by the wall... Read Leviticus in the Torah. What is it about? Separation between pure and impure. To pray, a Jew must be pure and whatever comes in the way of this purity must be separated...

"Where was the first ghetto? In Venice. And who built it? It was the Jews themselves, in order to be separated from the rest. After that, Europe put them in ghettos," AFP quoted him as saying.

Mr Menargues, a Middle East specialist who lived in the region for many years, was given the post of head of news in July.

RFI said on Monday it had accepted his resignation.

EU role

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was in Jerusalem on the same day, hoping to patch up relations with Israel.

Paris was upset when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called on French Jews to leave for Israel after a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France.

Israel has criticised continued French contacts with Yasser Arafat's Palestinian leadership.

Mr Barnier called for a greater role in Middle East peacemaking for the EU.

His opposite number, Silvan Shalom, said that would be welcome "if they show a more balanced attitude towards the conflict".


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