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Special Interview the Jewish Renewal Group in France

The recent French presidential elections saw one Jewish organization, Renouveau Juif (Jewish Renewal), break with the traditional neutrality of the organized Jewish community. Henri Hajdenberg and Philippe Ryfman, two lawyers who lead Jewish Renewal believed it played a part in defeating Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s hopes for re-election.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here, Hajdenberg and Ryfman stressed that Jewish Renewal did not support any candidate for President. What they did was urge Jews to vote against Giscard whose policies Hajdenberg called pro-Arab and anti-Israel.

“This is the first time in France that anyone spoke of the Jewish vote,” Hajdenberg said. The organization sponsored 15 rallies and demonstrations throughout France and distributed more than 100,000 leaflets calling for Jews to “vote against Giscard.” The campaign to vote against Giscard did not favor any candidate in the first round, Hajdenberg said. Jews voted for Gaullist Jacques Chirac on the right as well as Socialist Francois Mitterrand.

PLAYED ROLE IN DEFEATING GISCARD

But the two leaders admit that in the second round, which was a runoff between Giscard and Mitterrand, their call for a vote against Giscard favored Mitterrand. They also believe Jewish Renewal’s efforts to convince France’s some 300,000 Jewish voters to oppose Giscard were successful.

Hajdenberg said that in 11 out of the 12 districts in Paris and its suburbs where Jews make up seven to 12 percent of the population Mitterrand won, in many cases reversing the outcome of the 1974 election. He said that in two districts, where Jews are a majority, Mitterrand received a much higher percentage of the vote in winning than he did seven years ago.

Hajdenberg and Ryfman were in Washington to attend the recent 22nd annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). They were particularly interested in watching AIPAC members go around Capitol Hill to meet their Congressmen and discuss support of Israel.

WILL CONDUCT A NEW POLITICAL CAMPAIGN

The French Jews then returned to Paris where they will be conducting a new political campaign aimed at getting out Jewish voters for the French parliamentary elections scheduled by Mitterrand. Hajdenberg stressed that Jewish Renewal will act in each district on the candidates record, not their parties. He said it might call for the defeat of a candidate on Mitterrand’s Socialist ticket if he does not have a good record on Israel.

Jewish Renewal’s policy is directly opposite that held by the Fonds Social Juife Unifie (FSJU) and the Representative Council of Jewish Organizations of France (CRIF), France’s two major Jewish organizations. Alain de Rothschild, president of CRIF, recently told the American Jewish Committee annual meeting here that French Jews voted as individuals and that CRIF listed the answers of all candidates to issues of Jewish concern without taking sides.

It was this attitude that convinced Hajdenberg, now 34, and Ryfman, 33, to form a more political organization around the time of the Yom Kippur War.

“We observed in France that Jews have no power and were not able to influence the policies of the country,” Hajdenberg said. “Our representatives are not leaders, more like managers.” He added that the French Jewish leadership reacted to events but did not mobilize for change.

It was of course the policies of Giscard that inspired the new organization which was then called the Jewish Action Committee. Hajdenberg said that as soon as Giscard was elected he demonstrated a pro-Arab position, his Foreign Minister met with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat and France voted against Israel in the UN, among numerous other examples.

The new organization had about 100 members but about a year-and-a-half ago it was decided to organize on a national basis and the organization was renamed Jewish Renewal. It now has some 9000 members, most of them under 40 years of age.

The event that made the organization nationally prominent, was the 12 Hours for Israel, a massive demonstration for the Jewish State in April, 1980. The organization also took an active part in the demonstrations after the bombing of the Rue Copernic Synagogue last year.

Hajdenberg said that members of the organization also provided the Jewish community and its institutions with “self-protection” after the bombing. Hajdenberg stressed that it was “self-protection” not “self-defense” — the terms have different meanings in French — since the group did not sanction violence against suspected anti-Semites.

ROLE OF ALTERNATIVE SPOKESMAN

Ryfman noted that Jewish Renewal has also provided French Jewry with an alternative spokesman in the media. He said up to now when a Jewish reaction was wanted, the media sought out only the leaders of CRIF and FSJU. But, Ryfman said, after the synagogue bombing and during the election, Jewish Renewal’s views were also expressed. In addition, there have been many articles on Jewish Renewal in the French press during the recent elections.

Meanwhile, both Hajdenberg and Ryfman are optimistic about the policies Mitterrand will have toward the Middle East. “The new French policy will be better balanced toward Israel,” Ryfman said. Hadjenberg predicted there will be a ban on the sale of nuclear technology to the Arab countries and foresees the nationalization of the arms industry which he believes will mean a more balanced policy of arms sales in the Middle East.

But whatever Mitterrand’s policy turns out to be, it is certain that Jewish Renewal will be watching closely and will speak out when it believes the interests of the Jewish people are not being respected.

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