Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon angered the French government this week by suggesting that French Jews needed to leave France for Israel because of the rise of anti-Semitism among young French Muslims. While statistics from the French Interior Ministry show 510 anti-Jewish acts in the first half of 2004, up from 593 total in 2003, France was insulted by the implications that racism against French Jews was out of control. French President Jacques Chirac reportedly told Sharon in a message that he was no longer welcome in France. The French newspaper Le Monde accused Sharon of trying to cast France as an illegitimate partner in the peace process. However, Israeli officials argued that Sharon was simply offering to French Jews the same welcome he was offering to Jews around the world.
In the meanwhile, about 500 North American Jews arrived in Israel on Wednesday to be greeted by Sharon himself. Jews who immigrate to Israel are automatically eligible for citizenship, and Sharon welcomed the newcomers at the airport with enthusiasm. By coming here, you have sent a sound message to the world," he said. "Israel is and always will be the eternal homeland for the Jewish people." Over 900 Americans have immigrated to Israel so far this year. Sharon hopes to settle a million North Americans in Israel over the next ten years.