You would think the SNCF, which waited until 2011 to apologise to survivors of the Holocaust for its role in wheeling thousands of French Jews off to the extermination camps, might be careful to avoid any further accusations of institutional racism. Yet this week, when Israeli President Shimon Peres passed through the Gare du Nord in Paris, the SNCF went out of its way to ensure that he wouldn't have to look at any black or brown faces during his visit (which ironically was to discuss how to improve relations between Israel and Palestine).
Before we all get too well-what-do-you-expect-from-a-racist, the Israeli Embassy denies having requested any such ethnic cleansing of the station staff. I'm inclined to believe them: after all, in Israel most Jews have no problem with exposure to Arabs. They might not let them onto their buses, or their roads, or their housing estates, but they don't mind looking at them any more than whites in Mississippi in the 1950s minded looking at the blacks who were cleaning their homes.
The SNCF's "sensitivity" to the question of a Muslim presence is especially ironic when you compare the NCF's record during the Nazi occupation with that of Paris's Muslim community, who were responsible for saving countless Jews from arrest and slaughter by the authorities. That the SNCF compounded its historical thick-headedness with clumsy racism by equating "black and North African" with "Muslim" just adds to the heap of trouble on store for its management.