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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
France angered by Sharon's call
Desecrated tombstone at a French Jewish cemetery in April 2003
France has seen a spate of attacks against Jewish targets
Government officials and Jewish leaders in France have criticised Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for calling on all French Jews to move to Israel.

Mr Sharon said moving was a "must" because of a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in France.

France's foreign ministry said it had asked Israel for an explanation of the "unacceptable comments".

On Monday, an Israeli spokesman tried to play down the comments, saying Mr Sharon had been misunderstood.

Avi Pazner told French Radio Europe 1 that Mr Sharon's comments to the American Jewish Association in Jerusalem had been badly reported.

"He concluded that French Jews, but also those of the entire world, belong in Israel," he said.

Mr Sharon urged French Jews to move to Israel because of anti-Semitism, but Israel has also encouraged Jewish immigration to Israel for demographic reasons.

If the current population trends continue, it is estimated that Jews will be outnumbered by non-Jews in the territory that Israel controls within 10 to 15 years.

'Scandalised'

French politicians have been outraged by the comments.

The president of the national assembly, Jean-Louis Debre, said Mr Sharon "missed a good opportunity to keep quiet".

We think we have reason to worry now in France but we don't have to move to Israel
Gabriel Farhi,
French rabbi
"These words are inadmissible, unacceptable and, furthermore, irresponsible," he told Europe 1 radio.

Jacques Myard, a member of France's foreign affairs committee, said Mr Sharon appeared to be trying to divert attention from his own problems in Israel.

"I am really scandalised by this call," he said.

French Jews have also found Mr Sharon's comments unhelpful.

French rabbi Gabriel Farhi said he was surprised.

He said he thought Mr Sharon must have been expressing his personal feelings.

"It is definitely not the feeling of the Israeli state and definitely not that of the French Jewish community," he told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

"We think we have reason to worry now in France but we don't have to move to Israel. We don't feel it is a must."

France has suffered a wave of anti-Semitic attacks coinciding with renewed fighting in the Middle East.

The latest French government figures show 510 anti-Jewish acts or threats in the first six months of 2004 - compared with 593 for all of last year.

In recent years there have been bomb attacks against a number of synagogues and Jewish schools in France.

Jewish tombs have also been desecrated.

Blunt

Mr Sharon acknowledged that the Paris government had made efforts to tackle the problem but still said his advice to French Jews was that moving to Israel was "a must and they have to move immediately".

Correspondents say this is not the first time that Mr Sharon has spoken about the need for French Jews to leave for Israel, but rarely has he been so blunt.

They say there is irritation in France at the idea that life for Jews there is becoming dangerous - especially as the government has made every effort to show that anti-Jewish acts will be severely punished.

A week ago President Jacques Chirac rushed to condemn an apparently anti-Semitic attack on a Paris train that turned out to be a hoax.

His haste only aggravated passions among many in the Muslim community who feel they are the instant scapegoats, observers say.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"The French government has reacted angrily to Mr Sharon's remarks"



SEE ALSO:
French Jews 'must move to Israel'
18 Jul 04  |  Middle East
'Race attack' woman faces trial
15 Jul 04  |  Europe
Racist vandals strike in France
14 Jun 04  |  Europe
Cemetery desecrated in France
03 May 04  |  Europe


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