The open letter published Sunday in the Parisien newspaper blamed “Islamist radicalisation” for what it said was “quiet ethnic purging” in the Paris region, with abuse forcing Jewish families to move out.
After a series of high-profile attacks on Jews, Muslim leaders contacted by AFP acknowledged that anti-Semitism was a problem in France.
But they charged that the nearly 300 signatories, who included ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and former prime minister Manuel Valls, were blaming a whole religion for the actions of an extremist minority.
“The only thing we can agree on is that we must all unite against anti-Semitism,” said Ahmet Ogras, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith umbrella group.
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, said the manifesto “subjected French Muslims and French Islam to an unbelievable and unfair
“It creates a clear risk of pitching religious communities against one another,” he said in a statement.
The manifesto calls for verses of the Koran calling for the “murder and punishment of Jews, Christians and disbelievers” to be removed on the grounds that they are “obsolete”.
But Tareq Oubrou, imam of the Grand Mosque of the southern city of the Bordeaux, pointed out that Islam was not the only religion whose ancient holy texts contain anachronistic passages.
“Any number of holy texts are violent, even the Gospel,” Oubrou said, adding that the signatories, who also included celebrities like actor Gerard Depardieu, had misinterpreted the Koran.
The writer Pascal Bruckner, among those who signed the letter, told France Inter radio it had not been intended “to stigmatise but to spur on the goodwill of reformist Muslims”.
The letter said that since 2006, “11 Jews have been assassinated — and some tortured — by radical Islamists because they were Jewish”.
The latest attack rocked France last month when two perpetrators stabbed an 85-year-old Jewish woman 11 times before setting her body on fire, in a crime treated as anti-Semitic.
Officially, the number of anti-Semitic crimes fell in France in 2017 for a third year running, according to the interior ministry, down seven percent.
But Jews are the target of about a third of France's recorded hate crimes despite making up only about 0.7 percent of the population.
The half-a-million-plus Jewish community is the largest in Europe but has been hit by a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to anti-Semitism in immigrant neighbourhoods.