It started when National Front presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, made an exaggerated claim that most of the meat consumed in Paris was slaughtered according to the Muslim Halal rules. French President Nicolas Sarkozy demonstrated that Le Pen was factually wrong by a long shot and the issue was temporarily forgotten.
Inexplicably, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon brought the issue back and managed to anger the Jewish community as well as the Moslems. Speaking "in a personal capacity" on Europe 1 television, Fillon said that "religions should reflect on the maintenance of traditions that do not have much in common with the state of current science, the state of technology, and the problems of health." He said this in reference both to Halal and kosher slaughter.
Dr. Richard Prasquier, the head of the CRIF, the main Jewish umbrella organization, declared himself shocked by Fillon's stupefying declaration "even if he says that it is in a personal capacity when he expresses himself while he is Prime Minister he has an official word. We are in the country where a separation of church and state exists."
The Union of French Jewish Students also declared itself outraged and claimed that the statement "created suspicion with regards to Frenchmen who observe these religious rules."
Gilles Bernheim, the Chief Rabbi of France, also condemned the statement, saying "we are in a period of crisis, in what way is the problem of kosher meat or halal meat a serious problem for France?"
This faux pas caused consternation within Sarkozy and Fillon's UMP party. While they realize that the Muslim vote will probably go to their Socialist rivals, they were counting on the Jewish vote that, for the most part, broke in favor of the UMP in the 2007 elections. Fillon hastily announced a meeting with Rabbi Bernheim to clear the air.
Watching on bemusedly was the front runner in the presidential race. the Socialist Francois Hollande. He commented that while the issue had been raised by several candidates, it did not belong in a presidential election "Our fellow Muslims and Jews have felt offended."
He seconded Prasquier's sentiment about the implications of a separation of church and state, saying "the Republic needs to be clearer about its principles: freedom of conscience and religious freedom."