- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

PARIS France is planning a major campaign to rebut accusations of anti-Semitism and ease the concerns of Western Europe's largest Jewish community in the face of rising violence.

The recently appointed conservative Cabinet has warned that "to attack the Jewish community is tantamount to attacking France."

The statement, prompted by a rash of attacks on Jewish property and places of worship, comes amid a debate about the identity and loyalty of France's estimated 600,000 Jews.

Only about 15 percent of those are described as practicing, but most identify with the plight of Israel and support its tough response to the Palestinian intifada.

The resulting hostility of Arab immigrants toward the Jews has created a situation described as "transferring the Middle Eastern war to France."

The French media, on the whole, have been highly critical of Israeli reprisals for Palestinian suicide attacks, creating a problem for the country's Jewish leadership.

According to Jean-Yves Camus, a Jewish writer, "There are two kinds of Jew in France: those who proclaim loudly their Jewish identity and those who assimilate and disappear."

According to unofficial estimates, 80 percent of younger French Jews marry outside the faith and 50 percent celebrate major Jewish holidays.

Jews had cause to examine their role in France during ceremonies last month marking the 60th anniversary of the mass deportation of Parisian Jews to Nazi death camps, mainly Auschwitz, by French police.

A total of 13,152 Jewish men, women and children were rounded up, kept in a sports stadium known as the Velodrome d'Hiver and then shipped to their deaths. They were among 79,500 French Jews who were handed over to the Nazi authorities and deported; of those, 2,500 survived.

After taking office, the re-election of conservative President Jacques Chirac in May, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has taken the lead in acknowledging France's guilt toward Jews during World War II.

"Yes, yes, transit camps were set up, administered and guarded by Frenchmen," he said. "Yes, the first act of the Holocaust took place here, with the complicity of the French state."

Referring to more recent "inadmissible" attacks against the Jewish community, he said, "The head of state and the government have taken, and will continue to take, all necessary measures to stop this aggression, which insults our country."

Roger Cukierman, president of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France, described the statement as "the strongest I have heard from a French prime minister." But, he added, "Now we are waiting for deeds."

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