A group of 12 French imams was set to arrive in Israel on Sunday for a five-day visit designed to dispel the belief that France’s Muslim community is anti-Semitic, Maariv reported.
“Unfortunately French Muslims are seen as being anti-Semitic,” said Hassen Chalghoumi, who heads a mosque in the Paris suburb of Drancy and has been to Israel three times in the past. “While it is true that there are imams who spread anti-Semitism in the name of Allah, they are a minority…. We plan to present a different facet, that of Muslims who want to live in peace with Jews and wish to advance that peace.”
According to Chalghoumi, he repeatedly receives threats over his interfaith work and had to prevent news of the planned visit from getting out, fearing extremists would try to prevent it.
During the visit, which is being aided by the French Foreign Ministry, the imams will meet with President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The clergymen will visit Jerusalem’s holy Muslim sites and hold meetings with Jewish, Muslim and Christian spiritual leaders, intellectuals and youth.
“Our image in the world has been sullied and we must remedy it in the name of tolerance,” said the group’s members in a statement. “We are the true face of French Muslims.”
On November 2 French President Francois Hollande accompanied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Toulouse, where the two leaders participated in a memorial ceremony for three children and a rabbi who were murdered by radical Islamist Mohammed Merah in March.
In his speech, Hollande said that he would promote new legislation against hate speech.
“We will tear off all the masks, all the pretexts, of anti-Semitic hate,” Hollande said. Addressing Netanyahu, he added: “I would like to remind you of the determination with which the French Republic has confronted anti-Semitism, not only with words, but with actions.”