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France, Israel at loggerhead over Palestine

13 July 2002


Tensions between France and Israel have escalated into mutual antagonism after a series of incidents related to the conflict with the Palestinians that have resulted in claims of media bias, boycott threats and insults.

One of the most recent to rile the Israelis was a provocative announcement by an Air France pilot as he brought a plane into land at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on July 5.

He welcomed the passengers to “Israel-Palestine”, angering many Jews on board who complained to Israeli authorities.

Air France apologised for the row Friday, saying it deplored what was purely “a personal announcement by the captain and in no way a statement recommended by the company”.

Israeli’s telecom company Bezek has called for its thousands of employees to boycott the airline until the French pilot is sacked.

Many Jews in Israel and the United States are already furious over what they see as a pro-Palestinian bias in French media and a rise in anti-Jewish attacks in France over the past year that they are quick to liken to the Nazi persecution of their people in the lead up to World War II.

Israel’s government called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel after Jean-Marie Le Pen, a far-right politician who once dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail of history”, made a brief but surprisingly strong run for the French presidency.

And US Jewish groups have urged their members to put off travel to France to admonish the country for not doing enough to protect Jews.

They even made an appeal for Jewish movie executives to skip the Cannes Film Festival in May.

That appeal was ignored, with director Woody Allen giving a rare media conference in the French Riviera town to say “I’ve never felt that the French people in any way were anti-Semitic.” France, which has the biggest Jewish community in western Europe, around 700,000-strong, has fought back against the accusations.

President Jacques Chirac in May strongly protested to US President George W.

Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about the claims of French anti-Semitism, saying they were “unacceptable”.

And the French ambassador to Washington, Francois Bujon de l’Estang last month wrote a public letter published in several newspapers saying that such allegations amounted to “slander” and were “blatantly malicious”.

He blamed the anti-Jewish attacks in France on youths from his country’s five-million-strong Muslim community who were outraged with Israel’s hardline crackdown and occupation of Palestinian territories.

Bujon de l’Estang also suggested that the Jewish onslaught might be motivated by an attempt to drown out France’s voice in the search for Middle East peace.

Meanwhile, an association of 30 French groups launched a call Thursday for consumers to boycott Israeli goods in protest against the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank.

Israel “is practising a virtual apartheid on the Palestinian population,” the president of the Coordination for Calls for a Fair Peace in the Middle East (CAPJPO), Olivia Zemor, told a media conference in Paris.

The international media rights organisation Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders) also said more than 25,000 signatures had been put a petition denouncing attacks by Jewish groups on French media.

The Jewish groups, both in France and abroad, have started a coordinated campaign claiming French newspapers, television and news agencies — including Paris-based AFP — have vastly overplayed the Palestinian side of events and underplayed the Israeli side.

Threats have also been made to journalists and newsrooms in France.

Signatures on the petition include several respected figures, including a lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, William Bourdon, radical farm leader and anti-globalisation militant Jose Bove, musician Manu Chao, and the head of the French Jewish Union for Peace,Richard Wagman.