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Sharon mends fences in France

French President Jacques Chirac, right, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Elysee Palace in Paris on July 27. (Amos BenGershom/GPO/BP Images)

French President Jacques Chirac, right, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Elysee Palace in Paris on July 27. (Amos BenGershom/GPO/BP Images)

PARIS, July 28 (JTA) — A year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon caused a diplomatic flap when he urged French Jews to flee anti-Semitism at home and move to the Jewish state. This year, just ahead of a fence-mending visit to Paris — called to repair rifts caused not just by the Israeli prime minister’s comments but by France’s pronounced pro-Palestinian tilt — the French Interior Ministry reported that anti-Semitic attacks had fallen by 48 percent in the first half of 2005, compared with the same period in 2004. In 2004, 561 verbal or minor physical attacks were reported, versus 290 for this year. Violent acts, such as bombings or arson, are down from 148 to 49. Anti-Semitic graffiti has dropped as well — from 413 incidents the previous year to 241 this year. The statistics were confirmed by CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular French Jewish groups. “These results are the fruit of an effort begun in 2002, both through a productive dialogue with representatives of the Jewish community as well as a determined commitment by the domestic security services in the struggle against all forms of anti-Semitism,” the report said. The statistics came on the eve of a visit in which Sharon and French President Jacques Chirac each expressed their warm sentiments toward the other country. In a working lunch Wednesday that lasted two and a half hours, Chirac characterized Syria as a “threat to the stability of the region.” The two leaders also discussed Lebanon and Iran. Sharon rejected a French request to supply the Palestinian Authority security forces with arms and ammunition, noting that a P.A. policeman was involved in a terrorist attack over the weekend that killed an elderly Israeli couple. On Thursday, Sharon met with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who asked how France could help Israel reach an accord with the Palestinians. Sharon said the French should try to persuade P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas to take steps against terrorism, the Jerusalem Post reported. Sharon later met with French Jewish leaders. “The best means to guarantee the future of the Jewish people is aliyah,” Sharon told the Jewish audience, according to the Post. “I tell Jews all over the world to make aliyah to Israel. My government has a priority of bringing 1 million Jews to Israel.” Unlike his earlier statement that so angered French officials, Sharon on Thursday did not tie his aliyah call to anti-Semitism. Though the number of anti-Semitic attacks in France is down, the past week saw more anti-Semitic incidents than usual, with attacks in the capital and its suburbs on July 19 and 20. Then, on Saturday, three bottles of hydrochloric acid were thrown at a Jewish school in the 18th District of Paris. No one was injured, though one of the bottles landed inside the school’s synagogue while worshipers were celebrating Shabbat. A 15-year-old and two 17-year-olds were questioned in connection with the attack and have been temporarily placed in juvenile detention. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy visited the school Monday morning, where he announced that “no act of anti-Semitism or racism is a minor act.” “The only strategy” to combat anti-Semitism, he said, is one of “zero tolerance.” On Tuesday, Sarkozy met with Roger Cukierman, CRIF’s president, who thanked the interior minister, the chief of police and the Paris district attorney for their “efficient” pursuit of perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts. He suggested that local governments implement a plan to educate parents of teenagers on racism and anti-Semitism, organize visits to Auschwitz or the Shoah Memorial in Paris, and hold interreligious conferences. The police chief, Pierre Mutz, suggested that newly assigned police officers might visit the Shoah Memorial as well.

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