Paris welcomes Assad — but Syrian leader snubs Olmert

By Shirli Sitbon, July 18, 2008

Syrian leader Bashar Assad was a controversial guest of honour at France’s Bastille Day celebrations — and snubbed his fellow guest, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Mr Assad was among more than 40 heads of state at Sunday’s launch of the Union for the Mediterranean, a French initiative to bring together the 27 states of the EU with the Balkans and their Arab neighbours.


France elects chief rabbi in US-style vote

By Shirli Sitbon, June 27, 2008

France elected a new chief rabbi on Sunday after a lengthy presidential-style campaign described by one communal figure as “an unprecedented battle between two radically different characters”.

The victor, Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, the 56-year-old rabbi of Paris’s La Victoire Synagogue, beat Chief Rabbi Joseph Haïm Sitruk, 63, who led the French rabbinate for 20 years.


Brutal Paris attack raises new fears for community’s safety

By Shirli Sitbon, June 27, 2008

As the latest young Jewish victim of a violent attack in France woke up from his coma on Monday, debate was reignited on the safety and future of the county’s Jewish community.

Rudy Haddad, 17, was wearing a kippah when he was beaten by between 15 and 30 teenagers of black African origin wielding metal bars. The incident, which occurred on Shabbat afternoon, was initially described by French authorities as antisemitic. 

The attack took place in Paris’s multi-ethnic 19th district, which has large Jewish, Arab and black populations.


Sarkozy gets cosy with Assad

By Shirli Sitbon, June 20, 2008

Jewish institutions and opposition parties have criticised the welcome extended by French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to Syrian leader Bashar Assad to the summit launching the Med Union on July 13 and to the next day’s Bastille Day celebrations.

“It is not the invitation to the summit itself we are criticising, but the honours given to Assad the next day when he’ll be the nation’s guest at the presidential tribune for the national celebration,” a spokesman for the Jewish umbrella body CRIF told the JC.


French meet Hamas

May 23, 2008

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirmed that Paris had held informal talks with Hamas. His statement followed a report in the Le Figaro newspaper in which retired French diplomat Yves Aubin de la Messuziere said he had met Hamas officials a month ago. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri confirmed the contacts, which contravene a Western embargo on negotiations with the group.


Militant French body divides community

By Shirli Sitbon, April 18, 2008

A Jewish journalist has split community opinion by calling publicly for a militant Jewish body to be banned.

Frederic Haziza, the political editor of French Jewish radio station J, wrote an opinion piece in the national Liberation newspaper demanding the small, right-wing Jewish Defence League body be dismantled.

The group, which claims 200 members, has been accused of assaults on anti-Israeli and revisionist figures and violent demonstrations, but denies any involvement in such incidents.


Prayers at daubed cemetery

April 11, 2008

Around 150 Muslims, Jews and Christians held joint prayers in the recently desecrated Muslim section of a French graveyard. Graves of Muslim soldiers who were killed in the first world war were daubed with swastikas and and a pig’s head had been left in the Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery in northern France.