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French Envoy Cancels Meeting; Leaves Jewish Leaders’ Blood Boiling

June 7, 2002
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U.S. Jewish leaders are fuming after the French ambassador to the United States canceled a meeting with them to discuss anti-Semitism.

Thursday’s meeting, coordinated by the Senate Republican Policy Conference and the Republican Jewish Coalition, had been planned at least a month earlier and was to involve close to 100 American Jewish leaders.

But on Wednesday afternoon, Ambassador Francois Bujon de l’Estang canceled.

A French Embassy employee told Senate leaders that the envoy is the representative of a sovereign state and will not meet with nongovernmental organizations.

“This represents a terrible mistake on the part of the French ambassador,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League. “It sends the wrong signal about his country and their concern for this issue.”

A spokesman for the French ambassador later said de l’Estang had previously met with several Jewish nongovernmental organizations about the anti-Semitic incidents in France, and would now prefer to meet with them individually, rather than all at once.

“The fact is he considers this forum not to be the most appropriate way to communicate with NGOs,” said embassy spokesman Remi Marechaux.

Marechaux also said he believed the ambassador’s secretary had made the appointment without consulting the ambassador, and the cancellation occurred once he understood the parameters of the meeting.

But the ambassador “knew what the discussion was going to be about and he knew who was coming,” said an official who organized the event, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We were going to have asked him pointed questions, but we wouldn’t have been rude.”

One Jewish leader, who had scheduled a week of travel in Washington around the French meeting, said she believes the French ambassador felt he could manipulate the conversation away from anti-Semitism in France in individual meetings, but would not be able to do so in a larger group.

“It’s a divide-and-conquer strategy,” she said. “He believes that if he can meet with us individually, he can make separate deals with each of us.”

Christian leaders sympathetic to Israel had also been expected to attend the meeting.

Barbara Ledeen, director of coalitions for the Senate Republican Conference, said Santorum regretted the ambassador’s decision because he believes the meeting “would have benefited all parties.”

Anti-Semitism has risen sharply in France recently, sparked by Arab frustration over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen’s strong showing in the first round of the presidential election earlier this year also highlighted growing xenophobia in the country.

Many French Jews have become worried about their security, following attacks that have included personal assaults and attempts to set synagogues on fire.

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