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France's Jewish and Muslim leaders fall out

The Local/AFP · 24 Feb 2015, 09:28

Published: 24 Feb 2015 09:28 GMT+01:00

The last thing France needed in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks is a public row between leading Muslim and Jewish groups.

But Tuesday's annual dinner hosted by France's leading Jewish community group CRIF, attended by President François Hollande, was overshadowed after Muslim leaders from the CFCM (Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman) decided to boycott the event.

The dinner was marked by the absence of the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, outraged over comments by Jewish leader, Roger Cukierman, blaming young Muslims for anti-Semitic violence.

In an interview with French radio station Europe 1 earlier on Monday, Cukierman said: "All violence, and we must say this, all violent acts today are committed by young Muslims. Of course, that's a small minority of the Muslim community and the Muslims are the first victims," he added.

To further anger Muslim leaders he supported the use of the term “Islamo-fascism”, which was first uttered by Prime Minister Manuel Valls earlier this month.

Cukierman also said that Marine Le Pen was "blameless" when it came to stoking anti-Semitism although he added that the National Front party "should be avoided". The party's founder Jean-Marie Le Pen once described the Holocaust as a "detail" in history.

Speaking at the dinner on Monday Cukierman tried to back-pedal saying he "deeply regretted" Boubakeur's absence, adding he had called him to try and change his mind.

"Jews and Muslims are all in the same boat and I hope that contact will swiftly be re-established," he said.

But in a speech to nearly 700 invited guests Cukierman denounced the “unfounded accusations” by the CFCM.

The row overshadowed Hollande's vow to introduce tougher penalties for "racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic" remarks in the wake of last month's militant attacks in Paris.

Speaking at the dinner Hollande called for "faster, more effective sanctions" against hate speech and added: "I want such speech to come under criminal law rather than press laws."

Hollande said anti-Semitism should be treated as an aggravating circumstance in the prosecution of all offences.

Would-be jihadists would also face stiffer punishment under a draft intelligence bill to be unveiled next month, he said.

Since January's attacks, in which 17 people were killed, including four Jews gunned down at a kosher supermarket in Paris, soldiers and police have been deployed outside synagogues and Jewish schools.

Last month, the country's main Jewish group said the number of anti-Semitic acts doubled in France during 2014, with acts involving physical violence leading the increase.

Story continues below…

France is home to Europe's largest Jewish population, estimated to be between 500,000 and 600,000, as well as the continent's largest Muslim population, estimated at around five million.

French migration to Israel hit a record high last year of 6,600 people, and many believe the trend will accelerate.

France is still on high alert following January's shooting rampage by three jihadists who attacked the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, the Jewish supermarket and police officers in a three-day campaign of terror.

The attacks were the worst in France in decades.

The violence in Paris and more recently in Copenhagen, where two people were shot dead in attacks on a cultural centre and a synagogue, has sparked fears of a major threat from radical Islamists.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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