France's national railway company banned its black and North African employees from working during President Shimon Peres' visit last month over fears they "might be Muslim," newspapers in Britain reported overnight Monday.
According to the Daily Mail, the alleged discrimination took place when Peres arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris, the hub for high-speed trains travelling to cities including London, on March 8.
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The SUD-Rail transport union filed an official complaint saying everything was done to ensure there were "no Muslim employees to welcome the head of the State of Israel," according to the British newspaper.
Peres and a delegation of other senior Israeli officials arrived on a morning train from Belgium and were greeted by staff from SNCF, France's national railway, and their baggage-handling subsidiary, ITIREMIA.
But the day before, the Daily Mail reported, a site manager told all workers at the station about the ban on black staff, and those of North African descent, because they might be Muslim.
SUD-Rail said in a statement it was assumed by management that anyone from a "black or Arab" background might be Muslim - an assumption "based on the appearance of the workers."
According to the report, SNCF initially blamed the discrimination on "security protocol" advised by the French Interior Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Paris, but this has been emphatically denied by both.
Instead, the order came from SNCF management, with a spokesman for the state-run company pledging "a full investigation."
The Daily Mail mentioned that the row is particularly embarrassing for SNCF because of the part it played in the extermination of Jews, and other minorities, during the Second World War.
In 2011 the organization made its first formal public apology to Holocaust victims, many of whom had been entrained to death camps in Germany on lines which ran out of the Gare du Nord.
France has the largest Muslim population in western Europe, with up to six million living in the country, many in major cities like Paris, the report said.
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