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French leaders discuss anti-Semitism

PARIS (JTA) — A French minister who is Muslim said she feels personally implicated whenever a Jew is attacked. 

"Anti-Semitism is the first stone we throw at the republic," said Fadela Amara, a women’s activist of Algerian origin and France’s junior minister for urban affairs, on Feb. 5. "Let me be clear: When a Jew is struck, I am struck."

Amara, one of a few minority leaders in the French government, gained prominence when she founded the powerful women’s rights group Neither Whores nor Submissives.

Her comments came after approximately six hours of discussion in the country’s National Assembly building on the state of Jewish-Muslim ties, and the rapid rise of anti-Semitism in France since Israel began its Gaza offensive in late December. Journalists, religious leaders,  educators and politicians voiced divergent opinions under the auspices of a new program called "Emergency Dialogue."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to make the battle against anti-Semitism a top government priority, and Amara has led meetings among French activists charged with improving the quality of "living together" in a diverse French society. 

Security measures around Jewish institutions were increased almost immediately after they became common targets of vandalism and some bombings beginning during the final weeks of December.

Valerie Hoffenberg, director of the American Jewish Committee’s French branch, initiated the group, which was hosted by the moderate conservative UMP party leader, Jean-Francois Cope. Eric Besson, the newly appointed immigration minister, also participated in the discussion.

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