Black and North African/Arab workers were prohibited from Paris’ Gare du Nord railway station during the arrival of Israeli President Shimon Peres in early March over fears they might be Muslim under the aegis of “security.”
France’s Le Parisien newspaper reported that black and Arab railway employees were also removed from the presidential motorcade that accompanied Peres.
Ironically, the Israeli president was visiting France in an effort to improve ties between the Jewish and Muslim populations in the country.
The SUD-Rail trade union, which represents French railway workers, accused National Society of French Railways (SNCF), the state-run railway, of practicing racism and discrimination.
“We require that the SNCF publicly condemns these practices. … It is unacceptable - especially for a public company” SUD-Rail said in a statement.
“Everything was done to ensure there were no Muslim employees to welcome the [Israeli] Head of the State.”
The employees were reportedly removed based merely on physical appearance.
"The employees noticed that anyone who was black or Arab was excluded from the job and when afterwards they demanded an explanation from the site boss they received the reply that it wasn't because they were black or Arab but there couldn't be any Muslims getting close to Shimon Peres,” SUD-Rail spokesman Monique Dabat told Radio Internationale Française.
SUD-Rail has asked SNCF to condemn the incident as “unacceptable.”
However, according to Le Point, SNCF has denied banning Muslim workers from greeting Peres when he arrived from Belgium, citing instead that the directive came from the French Interior Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in Paris.
In turn, both latter entities said it was SNCF’s idea.
The Daily Telegraph reported that SNCF has promised to launch an investigation. The SNCF is particularly sensitive to any hint of discrimination, given its notorious role in helping the Nazis to transport French Jews to death camps in Poland during the Second World War.
While France does not officially recognize anyone by religion, Gare du Nord reportedly has a large number of ethnic minority workers, mostly of North African and Sub-Saharan African descent.
France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.