- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 31, 2003

TEL AVIV — France’s new ambassador to Israel caused a diplomatic row with his hosts yesterday when he was reported to have described the Jewish state as “paranoid” and called its prime minister, Ariel Sharon, “a lout.”

Limor Livnat, Israel’s education minister, said the remarks attributed to Gerard Araud were “very grave.” If true, she said, Israel should refuse to accept his letter of accreditation.

The dispute is reminiscent of comments by Daniel Bernard, the former French ambassador to London. He caused a storm in December 2001 after being heard at a dinner party speaking of “that [nasty] little country, Israel.”

Mr. Araud’s comments appear to have been made in a similarly unguarded moment. Boaz Bissmuth, a correspondent for the mass-circulation Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot, reported hearing Mr. Araud talk disparagingly about Israel in conversation with two other French diplomats during a recent cocktail party in Paris.

The newspaper said Mr. Araud did not realize he was in the presence of an Israeli journalist. When Mr. Bissmuth introduced himself, he said, Mr. Araud tried to dissuade him from reporting what he heard because the remarks came up during a private occasion.

The reporter said he decided to publish the remarks because they reflected an apparent bias on the part of an envoy of “a key European Union member state.”

The Yediot report said Mr. Araud also tried to explain that he meant Israel “has become paranoid because of what it has gone through.”

In a statement, the French foreign ministry spokesman, Herve Ladsous, said: “Gerard Araud denies in the most formal way all of the comments attributed to him by an Israeli journalist with respect to the state of Israel and its prime minister.”

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