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Friday, February 13, 2004


"While Muslim schoolgirls in France are being ordered to remove their headscarves,
flags emblazoned with the Star of David are being hoisted in the streets of Paris"

Haaretz: If you are planning to visit Paris next week, maybe you should reconsider. Because of the "rising tide of anti-Semitism"? On the contrary. Because of the "I love Israel" parade. Next Monday, President Moshe Katsav will be arriving in Paris for a state visit. His counterpart, Jacques Chirac, intends to greet him with a big bear hug and even halt all the traffic in the busy downtown area.

In the 16th century, the Protestant King Henri IV declared that "Paris is well worth a Mass" (i.e., conversion to Catholicism). The sovereign sitting in the capital today believes that warmer relations with Israel are well worth giving irritable Parisian drivers a nervous breakdown.

Israeli officials who flew to Paris recently to handle the logistics of the visit say that the French carpet has never been redder, and it's been a long while since the smiles of their colleagues have been so broad and their handshakes so firm. Chirac is apparently anxious to play the role of Jacques I, the leader of a monarchy that wants to show its esteem for the Jewish state. The president-king has sent for his royal horsemen, ordered the Israeli flag to be flown on the Champs Elysees and placed his private jet at the guest's disposal. The entire French leadership will take part in this rare display of hugs and smiles.

Proportionally speaking, there are fewer anti-Semitic incidents in France than in the United States, Britain and other European countries. But this has not made France any less determined to fight the phenomenon, Chirac will say. A special interministerial committee that was established in November meets every month to discuss the issue from three angles: punishing offenders; promoting education and awareness of the Holocaust; and international cooperation.

Katsav's visit will not spur France into changing its policies on Israel and the Middle East. In the long run, the future of French-Israel relations will be determined by the peace process. But the powerful message that the Chirac administration is trying to pass on to the people of Israel is one that is hard to ignore. While Muslim women in France are being ordered to remove their head scarves, flags emblazoned with the Star of David are being hoisted in the streets of Paris. And symbols, as we all know, have a tendency to penetrate deeply.
See also "Antisemitism in France," below, for a slightly less rosy picture.