Originally created 01/17/04

Israeli journalists get look at France and problem of anti-Semitism



PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac told Israeli journalists on Tuesday that France is doing its utmost to combat anti-Semitism but that they, in turn, should treat France fairly, an organizer of the meeting said.

A group of some 30 journalists from Israel met Chirac at his Elysee Palace, along with their outlets' Paris correspondents, in a visit organized to give the journalists a first-hand look at the situation of Jews in France.

Israeli media - and officials - have accused Europe and France in particular of increasing anti-Semitism at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East. French officials have launched programs they say aim to stem any rise in anti-Jewish sentiment.

"The Israeli public doesn't have a real knowledge of the problem" of anti-Semitism in France, said Nicole Guedj, a French lawyer who organized the trip along with Rabbi Joseph Pevzner, head of Jewish schools in France. Israelis "see this situation as much blacker than it really is."

Anti-Semitic attacks in Europe peaked in 2002, and officials say they have decreased over the past year. Government figures show 247 such attacks in the first eight months of 2003, compared to 647 in the same period of 2002.

Chirac assured the journalists that France was doing everything to stamp out anti-Semitism.

"He said that France does not tolerate anti-Semitism but on a question so serious one must not treat France unfairly," Guedj said by telephone.

Chirac also discussed French-Israeli relations as well as the Middle East crisis, she said.

The president's office did not comment on the meeting.

The journalists, here until Thursday, were to meet on Wednesday with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and his government's interministerial committee to fight anti-Semitism that includes the interior and justice ministers. They met Tuesday with Education Minister Luc Ferry.

Jewish schools have been among targets in anti-Semitic attacks in France in recent years.

Raffarin's government announced in December a wide-ranging campaign against anti-Semitic violence that includes encouraging French schools to lead class trips to Auschwitz and punishment for anti-Jewish remarks in the media.

Extra security at Jewish places of worship and schools and "exemplary sanctions" against anyone found guilty of anti-Semitic acts is part of the new policy.