“Everybody in France knows there is anti-Semitism except Jacques Chirac,” said Olivier Guland, editor of France\'s largest Jewish newspaper, Tribune Juive. Guland was speaking with Arutz Sheva Israel National Radio about his revealing conversation with Chirac, during which the French President denounced reports of anti-Semitic incidents in France as “rumors.”

Two days ago, during a presidential reception for newspaper editors, Guland was angrily received by Chirac when he introduced himself as the editor of the Jewish Tribune Juive. “You must stop,” Chirac said.

When Guland asked, “Stop what, Mr. President?” Chirac answered, “Stop saying that there is anti-Semitism in France. There is no anti-Semitism in France and, moreover, there are no anti-Semites in France.” When Guland reminded the French President of anti-Semitic bombings directed against a Jewish school and synagogue in a Paris suburb just days before, Chirac replied, “No, no, it’s not true. It is just a rumor.”

“So,” reported Olivier Guland, “I answered, ‘Mr. President, what is the origin of the rumor? Is it the Jews spreading this rumor?’ He didn’t want to answer. After that, he said to me, again and again, ‘You should stop. If you don’t stop [reporting that there is anti-Semitism], it will be bad for the Jews.”

The Tribune Juive editor attributed Jacques Chirac’s hostility to recent comments by Israel\'s Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior that France is currently the most hostile Western state to the Jews. “Which is true,” added Olivier Guland, pointing out that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with the French ambassador to Israel to discuss the growing anti-Semitism in France.

Guland also conveyed to Arutz Sheva his impression that the French President Jacques Chirac himself did not quite see Guland as a “real Frenchman.” During their conversation, Chirac attempted to buttress his claims by directing Guland to speak with the editor of West France, one of the largest general French newspapers, saying, “Ask him. He knows that there is no anti-Semitism in France.” Guland said that he understood that French President Chirac was telling him, “‘This man is a real Frenchman. This man is not Jewish.’ As if I don’t know. I live in France, I was born in France… He talked to me as if I was an Israeli, but I am not, I am a Jew who lives in France.”

The upsurge in anti-Semitic violence which began shortly after the outbreak of the Oslo War at the end of September 2000, and of which recent weeks have seen intense examples, has heightened interest among French Jews in immigrating to Israel. Jewish Agency chairman Sallai Meridor said last week that France, with its 600,000 member Jewish community (the third largest in the world), constitutes an important potential for aliyah (immigration to Israel). Meridor noted that the French Jewish community has close family and cultural ties to Israel. Most Jews there come from North Africa and are traditional-leaning. A large percentage have visited Israel.

A recent government directive has made available the \"absorption basket\" to immigrants from France. Until now, the benefits were reserved for Jews from the former Soviet Union. This allocation, above and beyond the regular benefits accorded to all new immigrants (e.g. medical

insurance, rent subsidies Hebrew language and professional courses, job retraining and placement, and mortgages at reduced interest rates, etc.), will facilitate immigrants\' successful absorption into Israel.

The government also decided to extend the package of benefits to immigrants from South Africa. The South African Jewish community numbers some 80,000.

Hear the entire interview with the Tribune Juive editor.