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Chirac to Tackle Anti-Semitism and Muslim Slums of Bitterness

New York Times, USA
Nov. 18, 2003
John Tagliabue
www.nytimes.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Tuesday November 18, 2003

PARIS, Nov. 17 Reflecting concern that disaffected Muslim youths are behind anti-Semitic acts in France, President Jacques Chirac on Monday called an emergency high-level meeting to approve measures to stop attacks on Jewish sites.

The meeting, which was attended by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, approved a package that included tougher policing and prosecution, but also sweeping urban renewal investments to clean up neighborhoods thought to breed Islamic extremism.

“Anti-Semitism is contrary to all the values of France,” Mr. Chirac told reporters. Recalling that Jews had lived in French lands for centuries, he added, “Our Jewish compatriots are at home in France, as is each and every one of our compatriots.”

Mr. Chirac was moved to speak out by the latest attack on a Jewish site in France. Early on Saturday, a Jewish school building in Gagny, north of Paris, was destroyed in an arson attack.

Mr. Raffarin told reporters after the meeting that the government would earmark the equivalent of almost $8 billion for urban renewal in tough areas with heavy Muslim populations. He did not elaborate.

European leaders have been coming under increasing pressure from the government of Israel and Jewish leaders for what they say is a surge of anti-Semitic feeling in Europe. On Monday, speaking to the Reuters news agency in Brussels, Israel’s foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, urged formation of a ministerial conference with the European Union to combat anti-Semitism.

In an editorial Monday, the newspaper Le Monde acknowledged that the condemnation of Israeli policies by European political leaders “has lowered the borderline, evidently, which was already uncertain for some, between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.” But it also criticized an “increase, in the world and in France, of an ever more virulent Islamism,” which it said “no longer hesitates to make of the `Jews’ the cause of all the earth’s evils.”

A recent opinion survey of 7,500 Europeans, conducted on behalf of the European Commission in Brussels, ranked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon No. 1, ahead of President Bush, as a threat to world peace.

Mr. Chirac cataloged measures that the government will immediately carry out to try to prevent anti-Semitic acts, including “precise instructions” for police guards at Jewish institutions, in agreement with Jewish community leaders; special magistrates charged with relations with those leaders; and accelerated trials and harsh penalties for those convicted of anti-Semitic acts.

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