CAIRO - A group of French Muslim imams arrived in Israel on Sunday, November 11, on a controversial visit to dispel the perceptions that Muslims are harboring hatred against Jews.
Unfortunately French Muslims are seen as being anti-Semitic, Hassan Shaljoumi, who heads a mosque in the Paris suburb of Drancy, told Maariv daily.
While it is true that there are imams who spread anti-Semitism in the name of Allah, they are a minority.
Shaljoumi is a member of a 12-strong delegation of French imams, who arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli officials to show that Muslims are not anti-Semitic.
The delegation will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit.
The imams will also hold talks with Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders as well as intellectuals and youth.
We plan to present a different facet, that of Muslims who want to live in peace with Jews and wish to advance that peace, said Shaljoumi.
The visit, funded by the French foreign ministry, follows accusations to the Muslim community of harboring hatred against Jews.
Four Jews and three Muslim soldiers were killed by a self-proclaimed Qaeda gunman in March in the southern city of Toulouse.
Both Muslims and Jews have complained that hostile acts and attitudes have spread in the wake of the Toulouse killings.
Muslim community leaders have registered a 15 percent rise in anti-Muslim acts in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2011.
Jewish observers say anti-Semitic attacks and acts of intimidation have risen 37 percent over the same period.
Shaljoumi, who visited Israel three times before, argues that the visit aims to show the true image of French Muslims.
Our image in the world has been sullied and we must remedy it in the name of tolerance, the imams said in a statement.
We are the true face of French Muslims.
The visit is expected to spark controversy, as most Muslims insist on ending Israel's occupation of Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war before having normal relations with the Jewish country.
French authorities have expelled several Muslim imams from the country following the Toulouse killings.
Last month, the French interior ministry expelled Tunisian imam Muhammad Hammami on accusations of spreading anti-Semitic views.
In March, France banned four Muslim scholars, including Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi from entering the country.
Among those barred were also Saudi scholars Ayed Bin Abdallah al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar, Egyptian preacher Safwat al-Hijazi and the former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri.France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe's largest.