Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Tammuz 5761 - June 27, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Assad's Visit to France Greeted with Demonstrations
by Arnon Yaffe, Paris

Bashar Assad, president of Syria, arrived in France on Monday for an official visit, as many protests were organized against his recent expressions of extreme antisemitism. The protests were barely mentioned in the press.

Assad was greeted with all the official honors the French government could muster. President Chirac waited for him at the door of the Elysee Palace and dined him at an official state dinner there. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin will also give him an official dinner at the Quay d'Orsai. Assad will also speak before the National Assembly and be the guest of honor at an official reception of the City of Paris.

The French Foreign Ministry, in an obvious attempt to justify the pomp, declared, "Peace in the Middle East is impossible without Syria." A ministry spokesman added, "It is impossible to bypass Syria in the quest for peace."

When the honor guard was greeting Assad at the Champs Elysee, tens of thousands of Jews demonstrated against him at the Jewish Suffering Square, a "safe" distance away. The protests were held at the old bicyclist sports arena that was used by the French police during the German occupation as a way station for arrested Jews.

The demonstration drew not only Jews from all backgrounds, but many others as well. Members of the National Assembly from both the Right and the Left attended, as did the mayors of eight of the Quarters of Paris. Even a spokesman for the Communist Party and the Green Party, perennial opponents of Israel, came to explain that their anti-Israeli position was distinct from the religious antisemitism expressed by Assad during the visit of the pope.

The French media were uniformly silent about the anti-Syrian demonstrations. The government radio station, France Info, mentioned in passing that the demonstrations were organized by the "Israeli community." Syrian spokesman called the demonstrations "pressure tactics of the Israeli lobby." Though the demonstrations prevented the Syrians from fully projecting the image they sought of a dynamic young leader who is worthy of the confidence of foreign investors, they aroused their own antisemitic response among the French.

Before his arrival, Assad tried to explain, in an interview on French radio and TV, that in the antisemitic declarations he made in the presence of the pope in Damascus and in Madrid, he didn't mean Jews, but rather Israelis.

The French government did not yield to the pressures to cancel the visit, despite the concern over Assad's declarations. The French ambassador in Damascus asked Assad not to refer to the Jews in the declarations he makes in Paris. At the meeting with the chairman of the CRIF, Roger Zuckerman, Chirac said that Assad was invited in order to advance the peace the Middle East, and that Zuckerman's protests will be of no avail.

Opposition to the visit was expressed by Jewish organizations, the French Catholic Church, socialist and rightist delegates and the Lebanese opposition, all of whom denounced Assad. The League Against Antisemitism pressed charges against Assad for his antisemitism. In articles in the press Syria's crimes not only against Jews and Lebanon are mentioned, but also those against France. Zuckerman reminded the French public that Syria murdered the French ambassador in Beirut and 75 French soldiers.

Syria has been banishing and murdering Palestinians for many years. She even exiled Yassir Arafat. Her Defense Minister, Mustafa Talam said: "If I see a Jew, I'll kill him, and if all the of the Arabs would do likewise, we will rid ourselves of the problem. " People like that, who are at the heads of Syria, are welcomed to France.

The French government announced that Prime Minister Sharon will be received in Paris on the 5th of July, as planned.

Heads of the French Catholic Church wrote a letter, asking French Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant to cancel Assad's visit. The Church heads cautioned that the Syrian President's trip to Paris "may endanger French Jewry." Cardinal Bidet stated that the Church will participate in a joint protest with Jewish organizations against Assad.

It is the first time ever that the French Church has joined in protest with Jews against an Arab leader. This is in direct contrast to the Pope's conciliatory gestures to the Arab world. On May 6, Pope John Paul II visited a Syrian mosque, becoming the first Pope in history to visit a mosque. When the Pope met with Assad in Damascus, the Syrian leader made antisemitic comments, quoting from discredited Christian doctrine. To date, the Pope has not responded.

Coinciding with Assad's visit the French government's news agency distributed an antisemitic article regarding the observance of shemittah in the Israeli territories. The article mocks the laws of Shemittah, Jewish law in general, and observant Jews.


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