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French jews leave { January 7 2003 }

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Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 12:24 GMT
French Jews leave home for Israel

Emigration of French Jews to Israel increased drastically last year in the wake of a string of attacks on members of the community.

France, which has the largest Jewish population in the European Union, lost 2,326 citizens - a tiny fraction of the total community but the largest number in 30 years and double that of 2001.

Their departure comes as many other Jews in Israel apply for EU visas - notably German - in order to escape the violence in the Middle East.

During 2002, a spate of suspected anti-Semitic attacks were carried out in France, believed to be retaliation for Israel's occupation of Palestinian towns and killing of civilians.

At the end of last week, a Paris rabbi was stabbed and slightly injured outside his synagogue. On Monday, his car was set alight.

Boycott abandoned

Hostility towards Israel's behaviour towards its neighbours has also spread to the French academic community, although a boycott proposed by the elite Paris VI University now appears to have been dropped.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the university on Monday night to demonstrate against a decision to discontinue research and educational exchanges with Israel as a show of political protest.

Many academics and politicians outraged by Israel's actions in the Palestinian territories said severing educational ties was a wholly unproductive way to confront the issue.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe sent a representative to read a personal message which called the university's boycott "both a shocking act and a tragic error".

Under a headline titled "No to boycott", the Le Monde newspaper said such a ban would "not signify a split with a state and its politics, but with a humane community".

Solidarity display

The liberal rabbi Gabriel Farhi was stabbed in the stomach outside a synagogue on Friday and his car scorched in an underground garage of his apartment building on Monday.

French President Jacques Chirac denounced the stabbing during an annual New Year's meeting with leaders of France's Catholic, Protestant and Jewish communities on Monday.

"This odious act arouses indignation," he said.

The French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, is to attend a special service at the synagogue on Wednesday to show solidarity with the Jewish community.

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