A new report on racism in France has sparked controversy by recommending anti-Israel acts and comments be punished by courts as severely as instances of anti-Semitism.
The 50-page report, released on Tuesday, four months after being ordered by Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, warns that racism of all sorts in France "radically threatens the survival of the democratic system".
Its author, award-winning writer, doctor and president of a humanitarian aid association, Jean-Christophe Rufin, suggested a raft of measures to combat racism and singles out anti-Semitism as a problem to be combated separately.
But one recommendation, that "unfounded" anti-Israel stances be criminalised to the same extent as anti-Jewish acts, has stirred debate in France, where media and political commentary is often critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
Anti-Israel positions among radical anti-racist campaigners risked "a contamination which could put the lives of our Jewish citizens in danger," Mr Rufin argued.
He suggested a law "to punish those who might level unfounded racism allegations against groups, institutions or states, and use against them unjustified comparisons with apartheid or Nazism."
Other recommendations in Mr Rufin's report included: video surveillance of Jewish cemeteries, clearer statistical databases permitting international comparisons, better national coordination, and heightened vigilance of Internet sites.
The study challenged stereotypes that perpetrators of hate-crimes often came from disadvantaged French suburbs predominantly populated by immigrant families from Muslim north African countries such as Algeria and Morocco.
"The new anti-Semitism appears more heterogeneous," it said.
Anti-racist organisations, while welcoming many of the measures envisioned in the report, turned on the controversial suggestion about assimilating criticism or acts against Israel with anti-Semitism.
Mr Rufin was "acting like an arsonist fireman," the head of France's League of Human Rights, Michel Tuniana, said.
'Personal take on problem facing France'
He said the focus on anti-Semitism created an "imbalance" in the approach to fighting all racism, and added that, if the recommendation became law, the umbrella groups the International Federation for Human Rights would be punished because it viewed Israel's treatment of Israeli Arabs as "discriminatory".
Jewish groups in France, however, supported the recommendation.
Mr. Rufin "denounces, very sharply, the anti-Semites who hide behind a sort of anti-Zionism," the head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, Haim Musicant, said.
De Villepin called the report a "personal" take on the problem facing France, but affirmed that the fight against racism and anti-Semitism was "a central axis" of his ministry's policies.
Although the number of racist and anti-Semitic acts so far this year, 123 and 166 respectively, outstripped those for all of 2003, de Villepin said there was "a significant ebb" in the last three months following a spike in March and April.
A newly formed group collecting statistics of acts against French Muslims said in its own report it had counted 182 "Islamophobic" acts between October 2003 and August 2004, based on news reports.
Among those, 118 were against individuals, including 27 assaults, while 28 were against mosques and 11 against Muslim graves, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France said.
France counts Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim populations, estimated at 650,000 and five million respectively.
French authorities from President Jacques Chirac on down have made fighting anti-Semitism one of their priorities.
Israel has recently endorsed French efforts to punish anti-Jewish acts after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon caused anger in Paris in July by urging French Jews to flee "the wildest anti-Semitism" by migrating to the Jewish state.
Israel's ambassador to France, Nissim Zwilli, hailed the report in an interview with Israeli public radio as "exceptional ... because it establishes a direct link between anti-Semitism and the anti-Zionist and hostile positions towards Israel."