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Behind the Headlines French Jews Split over Lobby Issue

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France’s Jews are split over the possibility or need to create a Jewish pressure lobby to try and influence France’s policy in the Middle East. The organizers of the April 27 mass rally, “12 Hours for Israel,” called for the creation of such a group stressing that the Jewish vote could be decisive in 40 parliamentary constituencies, 10 of them in Paris alone. The meeting, organized by a 32-year-old Jewish lawyer, Henri Hodjenberg, was attended by over 150,000 people, most of them of North African origin.

Hodjenberg, who heads a newly created organization, “Jewish Revival,” blamed the community’s current leaders for “timorous action” and said that its traditional heads, the Rothschild family, has “taken us on the road of political bankruptcy.” He said Jews can form a solid and unified “Jewish vote” and back the candidate most favorable to Israel’s own interests.

Since the meeting, a variety of Jewish organizations and political personalities have spoken out against the Revival’s proposals.

France’s foremost Jewish politician, Simone Veil, a former Health Minister and currently President of the European Parliament, stressed “there is no Jewish vote in France. Jews vote, and will continue to do so, according to their personal preferences and ideologies.” Ms. Veil, who is widely respected by all Jewish trends, was speaking last week at a ceremony organized by the Bar Ilan University which awarded her on honorary doctorate.

OPPOSITION TO NEW ORGANIZATION

Earlier, a number of organizations and spokesmen also came out against Hodjenberg’s declarations. The Consistory, the French Jewish rabbinical body, addressed a letter to Le Monde, signed by its president Jean-Paul Elkan, stating that “having opened a stand at the (April 27) meeting does not mean that we support all that has been said.” Elkan, who chairs the Paris Consistory, added: “We wish to stress once again that we are against trying to influence the political choice of our members and that we respect their various opinions.”

An editorial which appeared in the French edition of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Daily News Bulletin also severely rapped the meeting’s organizers, the Jewish Revival and its chairman. The editorial was signed “Scopus,” the pen name used by Adam Loss, director general of the Fonds Social Juif Unifie (FS JU, United Jewish Philanthropic Fund), and Gerard Israel, deputy secretary of the Alliance Israelite Universelle.

The two men write in their personal capacity but they generally tend to express opinions reflecting the views of their organizations. The FSJU is a half partner in the United Jewish Appeal of France and it generally reflects the views of the most pro-Israeli and community-conscious members of the French Jewish community.

The French press has eagerly picked up all these denunciations of Hodjenberg’s call. Le Monde even devoted a front page editorial to the issue stressing that “this is not the first time Frenchmen are torn between two loyalties. The Catholics have gone through this process at one time or another but with time the issue has faded away.”

Le Monde also devoted its entire “Op Ed” page to this issue, presenting three conflicting views. One, written by a history professor of Arab origin, accused the Jews of flouting France’s basic interests and placing Israel’s needs ahead of those of their country.

A GESTURE OF PROTEST

The Jewish Revival was set up by Hodjenberg and his friends as a gesture of protest against the community’s traditional leadership which they think is shy, scared and superficial.

Hodjenberg told the April 27 rally that “the (French) authorities despise our representatives” and implied that they don’t deserve anything better because of their timid approach. Several members of the Rothschild family, including Boron Alain de Rothschild, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), the body representing France’s major Jewish organizations, sat unmoving and impassive on the days while Hodjenberg spoke.

The quarrel between the traditional establishment and the community’s younger and probably more dynamic elements has been simmering for some time. The traditional leaders generally believe that there can be no such thing as a Jewish vote or even a Jewish pressure group in France and that the community should stick to trying to make its views known, at the highest possible level, through its national representatives.

The younger groups, such as Jewish Revival, believe that France’s 700,000 Jews, including some 300,000 voters, can become a potential political force and recall that President Valery Giscard d’Estaing won his election by just 400,000 votes over the Socialist contender Franco is Mitterrand. Whoever is right, the problem is that France’s opposition is not more pro-Israeli than the current administration.

Two men are currently vying for the Socialist nomination for next year’s Presidential elections: Mitterand and Michel Rocard. Rocard has openly spoken out on numerous occasions in favor of a Palestinian state. Mitterand has been for more careful but has steered, in a diplomatic way, a similar course. He was the first French prominent personality to meet as for back as 1972 with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat. The other opposition party, the Communists, openly espouse the PLO case and follow a line close to Moscow’s.

Within the pro-Giscard majority parties, the other contender for the nomination is Paris Mayor and Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac. Although Chirac has a number of Jewish advisers and generally pledges his friendship and sympathy for Israel and its cause, as French Prime Minister he conducted a strong pro-Arab policy and signed the Franco-Iraqi nuclear cooperation agreement which is now, according to most experts, enabling Baghdad to build its own atomic weapons.

Public opinion polls specialist Jacques Deutch, writing in the lost issue of the French Jewish weekly Tribune Juive, also stresses that in France, unlike the United States, the Presidential elections are held nationwide and not by state as in America.

This obviously seriously diminishes the importance of the Jewish vote, even if it were to exist, as it finally represents about one percent of the total electorate and cannot make its influence felt, except of a local level where foreign affairs play no role, in a general country-wide consultation.

The inter-communal split has at least helped to make both the government and the opposition parties keenly aware of the Jewish community’s passionate interest in everything concerning Israel and its intense. attachment to Israel’s cause.

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