February 13, 2006
The archbishop of Paris and head of the Roman Catholic Church in France, Andre Vingt-Trois, said that France was doomed to a “pandemic of anti-Semitism” during a visit to Israel.
“France is doomed to a pandemic of anti-Semitism,” he told a news conference in Tel Aviv with Israeli Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog after arriving on his first visit to the Holy Land.
“The feeling is fueled by a certain amount of events but we can be French and Catholic and not be frightened about meeting Jews and even enjoy it.”
Calling himself “sensitive” to the feelings of French Jews who have suffered from anti-Semitism, he said that the “situation of Judaism in France and of Jews can only be followed with vigilance”.
“They (Jews) know that in a serious situation, we are ready to be at their side,” Vingt-Trois said, emphasising the “importance of relations between the Catholic church and Judaism”.
The archbishop said he intended to convey a message of “hope” during his five-day visit to the Holy Land accompanied by 600 clerics.
“Those committed to building peace can transform what can appear a situation of hopelessness into one of security,” he said.
In June, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert paid tribute to France’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism, after meeting leaders of the country’s 600,000-strong Jewish community.
French-Israeli relations have often been strained over the question of anti-Semitism — France is home to the world’s third largest Jewish community as well as Europe’s largest Muslim population, at five million.
In incendiary comments made in 2004, Israel’s then prime minister Ariel Sharon urged French Jews to emigrate immediately to Israel, due to the threats he said they faced at home.