"Altogether I have to advocate to our brothers in France: Move to Israel as early as possible," Sharon told a meeting of an American Jewish association in Jerusalem on Sunday.

"That's what I say to Jews all around the world but there [France] I think it's a must. They have to move immediately."

Sharon praised the French government for taking action against the "spread of the wildest anti-Semitism", but said it was struggling against the impact of the growth of the Muslim community.

France is home to Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities, estimated at 600,000 and five million respectively.

According to French interior ministry statistics, the number of racist incidents has soared this year.

Racist incidents

There were 135 physical acts (vandalism, arson, assault, and attacks or attempted attacks) against Jews in the first half of 2004, compared to 127 for all of 2003, according to the statistics.

For the same period, there were another 95 acts against other ethnic groups - mainly those of North African Arab background - compared to 92 for all of last year.

Jacques Chirac has condemned
racist violence

France was gripped by a bout of soul-searching about anti-Semitism last week when a 23-year-old woman initially told police that a gang of six youths had accosted her on a Paris suburban train.

She claimed they slashed her clothes and drew swastikas on her stomach after mistaking her for a Jew.

But she later admitted she had made up the entire incident and begged forgiveness in a televised apology.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said in the aftermath of the alleged attack: "Anti-Semitism is a disgrace. We want to fight this sort of intolerable racism."

Israeli demography

"There is also something wrong in our society: it's the indifference to violence," he said.

French President Jacques Chirac this year excluded racist crimes from the traditional blanket clemency for prisoners he signs every July for Bastille Day.

"There is also something wrong in our society:
it's the
indifference
to violence"

Jean-Pierre Raffarin,
French prime minister

Recent racist acts in France have included the son of a rabbi being beaten by five youths near his Paris home, a rabbi in another suburb being struck and insulted, and a 15-year-old Jewish boy being assaulted at an ice-skating rink near the capital.

Jewish and Muslim tombs in cemeteries around France have also been defaced with graffiti, notably neo-Nazi slogans and symbols.

Israel has traditionally encouraged Jews from all over the world to emigrate to Israel.

Israeli politicians have warned if more Jews do not arrive, then Palestinians will eventually outnumber Jews in the country.