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Chirac angers U.S. Jewish groups


French President Jacques Chirac, right, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Paris in July 2001. (GPO/BP Images)

French President Jacques Chirac, right, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Paris in July 2001. (GPO/BP Images)

NEW YORK, July 30 (JTA) — American Jewish groups are outraged over French President Jacques Chirac’s reported accusations this week that they are under orders from Israel to wage an “anti-French campaign.” “Chirac’s very accusation — that Jerusalem directed orders to American Jews — is reminiscent of ancient anti-Semitic stereotypes of worldwide Jewish conspiracies,” said American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen. “I’m surprised that Chirac was so callous in protesting France’s lack of anti-Semitism that he invoked that classic canard.” Rosen also called the remark a “smokescreen” to hide the reality that the previous French government took no action against hundreds of violent anti-Semitic acts. Chirac made the comments in a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Monday, according to Ha’aretz. During the meeting, Chirac also rebuffed Israel’s request that Hezbollah be placed on the E.U. terror list. The AJCongress recently sent a group of representatives to meet with French government officials and members of the French Jewish community. After the trip, the AJCongress, like other Jewish groups, noted the progress the French government has made in reacting to a wave of anti-Semitism that swept across the country earlier this year. But the group said it would not reinstate the trips to France it sponsors, which it suspended after the anti-Semitic incidents. Other groups agreed that Chirac’s comments were derogatory. “I think it’s absurd, insulting and borders on anti-Semitism,” said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL has “said there is anti-Semitism in France, but we’ve never called France an anti-Semitic country.” Foxman also noted that criticism of anti-Semitic acts in France had come not only from American Jewish groups, but also from the U.S. Congress and the German government. David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said the claims were “entirely untrue. We have never been asked to say or do anything with regard to France by an Israeli official.” Harris demonstrated what he called the falseness of Chirac’s statements by illustrating a split among American Jewish groups themselves over policy toward France. He said the AJCommittee “never called France an anti-Semitic country” and has not supported boycotts and protests — a policy he said distanced the group from the more public approach being taken by others. Some Jewish officials went even further. Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said Chirac is revising history for ignoring the French government’s delay in responding to the anti-Semitic acts. France’s delay, he said, exacerbated the issue. Hier also said that Chirac was “challenging the loyalty of American Jews, saying we don’t think for ourselves and we take orders from Jerusalem.” Harris said while there have been some “bitter exchanges” between Israeli and French officials over the issue of French anti-Semitism, he didn’t “know why at this moment something would come up.” In mid-January, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Rabbi Michael Melchior, told the French daily Le Monde that “France is the worst Western country” when it comes to anti-Semitism.