Paris (CNSNews.com) - As the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents continues to rise in France, critics are voicing concern that the French government itself is partly to blame because of its anti-Israeli and anti-American foreign policy.
Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, cited several government policies that he said contributed to anti-Israeli sentiment, sometimes prompting anti-Semitic behavior.
Some 1,000 acts of anti-Semitic violence were recorded in France in 2004, a fifteen-fold increase over five years.
"I must express the malaise that I feel -- malaise in the face of what appears to me to be an incompatibility between France's foreign policy and its internal struggle against anti-Semitism," Cukierman said at a recent gathering of French Jewish organizations.
Among the policies that Cukierman singled out were last year's granting of a broadcast license to a Hizballah television station and the "grandiose" funeral ceremony organized for PLO leader Yasser Arafat at a French military air base before his body was flown to Egypt for a state funeral. Arafat died in Paris last November.
"I could wish that France would show as much friendship toward Israel as it does to the leaders of Arab countries," said Cukierman.
Responding to his comments, the dinner's guest of honor, Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin, said he planned to travel to Israel in March, the first such visit by a French leader in five years.
In an interview with CNSNews.com, Cukierman said French anti-Israel policies could be traced back to 1967, following the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors and after France's own Algerian war.
General Charles de Gaulle decided that it was in his country's best interest to adopt a positive attitude towards the Arab world because Jews made up a "self-assured and domineering" nation, he said.
The recent U.S.-led war in Iraq also marked President Bush as an aggressor, creating a negative association between America and Israel in the public's mind, Cukierman said.
"Public opinion today in France is that [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and Bush are the bad guys. It's not easy to change that opinion, especially when the policy of the government goes in the same direction."
Cukierman said that a press that was not sufficiently informed about the real situation in Israel also contributed to that opinion.
He urged the government to take steps to change public opinion about Jews, beginning at a local level, with mayors organizing inter-religious meetings and school programs to teach tolerance.
"If the foreign policy of France would be changed, it would also contribute positively," he said.
France's participation in the recent commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz was a positive development, he said. Official French approval of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations would also influence public opinion in a positive way.
Philippe Karsenty, who runs a French media watchdog agency called Media Ratings, has kept an eye on bias in journalism and notes numerous instances of an anti-U.S. slant in reporting.
"The French government, especially since [President Jacques] Chirac [took office], defines itself in its opposition to the United States," said Karsenty.
"And the media never question French foreign policy. That's how the media has become anti-American."
Karsenty said complacent journalists found it easier to repeat the government line than to do their own investigations. Because state television and radio dominated broadcasting anyway, they often were forced to repeat the official position.
Alain Hertoghe wrote a book entitled La Guerre a Outrances (The War of Excesses) in 2003 about the anti-American coverage by French newspapers of the Iraq war.
Not only was his book completely ignored by the French press but as a result, Hertoghe also lost his job as deputy editor-in-chief of the online version of the Catholic newspaper, La Croix.
Karsenty's website lists what he says are examples of distorted press coverage, including an article by the newspaper Le Monde (along with the Reuters press agency) associating Bush with Hitler, Stalin and the Ayatollah Khomeini after the president was named Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2004.
French media had also emphasized their disapproval of the U.S. by referring to perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Iraq as "resistance fighters."
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.