Friday, 7 December 2007

Sarkozy faces antisemitic jibes in Algeria

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s first official visit to Algeria this week was overshadowed after he became the target of antisemitic insults.

Only a few days prior to the visit, Algerian minister Mohamed Cherif Abbés claimed in the El–Khabar newspaper that Mr Sarkozy had been elected through the manoeuvres of “the Jewish lobby” and made reference to the president’s Jewish origins.

The Algerian authorities refused to apologise for the assault, and Socialist leaders Jean-Christophe Cambadélis and Pierre Moscovici pleaded for a rescheduling of the trip, stating the attack was “intolerable”.

However, Mr Sarkozy decided to push forward with the meeting, attempting to consolidate tense bilateral ties and to sign $5 billion (£2.5bn) of energy deals.

Mr Abbés’s comments were not the first antisemitic attacks launched against Mr Sarkozy. Extremist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has pointed at Mr Sarkozy’s ancestors, saying “he is Jewish through his mother”, and several weeks ago Mr Sarkozy was even accused of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence service. But Mr Abbés’s assault was the first public antisemitic attack made by an Algerian official and was followed by the Algerian authorities’ refusal to allow entrance to one of Mr Sarkozy’s guests on the visit, a French-Jewish singer of Algerian descent, Enrico Macias. The French Jewish umbrella group CRIF said it was “disgusted” by these decisions.

The attacks may have been intentional, coming at a time when Algeria is trying to make its mark in the region. Mr Sarkozy, who has strengthened relations with Morocco, Algeria’s rival, wants to develop a Mediterranean Union that would include Israel, but Algeria prefers to keep Israel out.

However, the most obvious issues of discord were France’s past colonial rule in North Africa and Mr Sarkozy’s refusal to issue an official apology, as well as his immigration policy, which has been strongly criticised in Algeria.

The French president chose to remain focused on his mission, condemning colonisation but refusing to issue an excuse. He replied to the minister’s antisemitic attacks in his speech, calling for a fight against racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia.

“Nothing resembles antisemitism more than the hatred of Islam,” Mr Sarkozy told the Algerian Parliament. “Antisemitism and Islamophobia have the same face, the face of foolishness and hatred. We can’t explain them, we simply have to fight against them.”

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