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France Riled by Bias Hoax

PARIS — After what seemed a rabid antisemitic attack that grabbed headlines and prompted condemnation from all corners turned out to be a hoax, Jewish advocates are expressing concern that both the French government and the press will tone down their condemnations of antisemitism.

Roger Cukierman, the head of CRIF, the umbrella organization representing French Jews, told the JTA that he “regretted that French citizens had been tricked,” adding that the incident had hurt the fight against antisemitism. In recent months, several incidents initially portrayed as antisemitic attacks have turned out to be more complex, fueling criticism from Muslim groups about Jewish paranoia and Islamophobia, and feeding a growing indifference of the general public.

On Tuesday, a 23-year-old non-Jewish woman admitted to the police that she had fabricated her account of an antisemitic attack on her by four North Africans and two Blacks last Friday.

French President Jacques Chirac, who initially expressed his “horror,” called for sanctions against the woman and added that such a manipulation was the consequence of a “bad climate” that has developed in the country.

Coming the day after Chirac delivered a major speech asking French citizens to fight intolerance, and a government announcement that the number of attacks against Jews in the first six months of 2004 surpassed the total number for 2003, the reports of the attack sent shock waves through the country.

The woman told the police that six men armed with knives had attacked her after discovering information on her identity card that led them to believe, erroneously, that she was Jewish. According to her police complaint, the attackers scrawled three swastikas on her stomach with a black marker pen and then overturned a carriage containing her 13-month-old baby.

But it soon surfaced that the woman had a history of making false police complaints, and eventually she admitted she had drawn the swastikas herself.

On Tuesday, the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples — an organization that traditionally has had sour relations with the organized Jewish community — blasted “irresponsible statements used by people who profited from this fabrication.”

Cukierman, however, argued: “If this was believed, it’s because the climate permits it.”

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