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Sharon Call for Jewish Migration Sparks French Protests - 2004-07-19

A call by Israel's prime minister for French Jews to emigrate immediately to the Jewish state has sparked protests from France's Jewish community, as well as from the French government.

Several French government and Jewish officials have wasted no time in reacting to Sunday's remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who urged French Jews to emigrate to the Jewish state, citing what he described as a rising tide of anti-Semitism in France.

France's Foreign Ministry called for an explanation from the Israeli government, and Jean-Louis Debre, head of the National Assembly, called Mr. Sharon's remarks unacceptable and irresponsible.

Mr. Sharon's appeal was made at a particularly sensitive time for France, where anti-Semitic attacks have been on the increase in recent years.

Meanwhile, the number of French Jews moving to Israel has also jumped, from just over 2,500 in 2002, to 3,000 estimated for this year, according to the Representative Council of Jews in France.

But Jewish Council Vice President Joseph Zhrihen says Mr. Sharon's remarks about anti-Semitism do not reflect the reality in France. Mr. Zhrihen said French Jews are sometimes facing a difficult situation in France and are somewhat uneasy about the future. But he said the French government is taking the problem of anti-Jewish acts seriously.

On Monday, Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said on a French radio station that Mr. Sharon had been misunderstood. Jacques Revah, charge d'affaires for the Israeli embassy in Paris, agreed during a telephone interview with VOA.

"It is really a malentendu, a misunderstanding," he said. "Mr. Sharon has said exactly what he has said in the past. He has, concerning France in particular but Europe in general, he speaks about anti-Semitism in France exactly like the French authorities speak about anti-Semitism. And he praised the efforts that the government in France, and the president in France, are doing."

This is not the first time that anti-Semitism has become a diplomatic issue between France and Israel. Two years ago, a top Israeli diplomat, Michael Melchior, described France as the worst Western country in terms of anti-Semitism. Other Israeli officials distanced themselves from that remark, following protests from Paris.

Pro-Palestinian sentiments in France have also contributed to sometimes tense relations between the two countries.