PARIS (AFP) – The Israeli government said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had been misunderstood in his call to French Jews to leave immediately and move to Israel, a spokesman told French radio.
“Sharon was misunderstood,” spokesman Avi Pazner told Europe 1 radio station. “He concluded that French Jews, but also those of the entire world, belong in Israel.”
The prime minister Sunday made a public call to the 600,000 French Jews to “immediately” move to Israel in the face of growing anti-Semitism, an appeal dismissed as unacceptable by the French foreign ministry and strongly criticized by Jewish organizations.
“Altogether I have to advocate to our brothers in France: move to Israel as early as possible…. That’s what I say to Jews all around the world but there (France) I think it’s a must. They have to move immediately.”
Pazner said Sharon had taken care to put his comments in context of his opinion “which is that the place of the Jews is in Israel.”
He stressed that the prime minister had hailed the French government for its measures to combat increasing anti-Semitism and racially-motivated attacks.
In his speech to an American Jewish association in Jerusalem, Sharon lay much of the blame for the increase in anti-Semitism on the growing Muslim community in France, now numbering around five million people.
French interior ministry figures show a steep increase in racist incidents so far this year. One-hundred thirty-five acts of arson, vandalism or assault were committed against Jews in the first half of 2004, slightly above the total of racially-motivated attacks for all of last year.