France cancels Sharon visit

By Aaron Klein

France informed Israel yesterday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was planning a visit to France, is no longer welcome in light of his call to French Jews to immigrate to Israel.

Israeli diplomatic officials said Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, French President Jacques Chirac’s personal diplomatic adviser, informed Sharon’s office that there is “no reason” for Chirac “to see Sharon” following the comments the Israeli prime minister made yesterday that Jews should leave France for the Holy Land immediately.

Israeli diplomatic officials said although no date had yet been set for a visit, such a visit was in the planning stage.

Sharon, during a speech to the leadership of the United Jewish Communities on Sunday, called on France’s 600,000 Jews to immigrate to Israel “immediately.”

“If I have to advocate to our brothers in France, I would tell them one thing: Move to Israel, as early as possible,” Sharon said, in response to a question about anti-Semitism in France and in Europe.

Sharon’s comments came a week after a 23-year-old woman shocked France by first claiming she was the victim of an anti-Semitic incident on a train, and then admitting she lied.

Although this woman was not attacked, in the first six months of 2004 there were — according to French Foreign Ministry statistics — 135 physical attacks against Jews. By comparison, in all of 2003 there were 127 such attacks.

Israel and France have had several recent spats. Israeli diplomats last week scolded Chirac’s office for maintaining high-level contacts with Arafat in spite of Israeli attempts to isolate the Palestinian leader.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, after meeting recently with Arafat, demanded Israel allow Arafat to travel freely, pledged full French support for the Palestinians and asked Israel to halt construction of the West Bank security fence, which is said to be saving lives.

Nabin Abu Radiniah, senior aide to Arafat, told WND at the time, “We are very appreciative of Barnier’s remarks. They will be helpful to end Israel’s aggression against the leader of the Palestinian people.”

Radiniah confirmed for WND reports that Barnier delivered a personal message from Chirac to Arafat in which France’s full backing for the Palestinian cause was reiterated.