PARIS (Aug. 12)
France is determined not to answer Israeli Premier Menachem Begin’s charges this week that the French government and media are responsible for having encouraged an atmosphere of anti-Semitism which culminated Monday in the killing of six people and the wounding of 22 by a terrorist hit squad in the heart of this city’s Jewish quarter.
A government spokesman said today that “the (Lebanese) situation is too precarious to be endangered by charges and counter-charges on an international level.” The spokesman said, however, that President Francois Mitterrand would probably express his Middle East policy next Tuesday when he will address the nation on television. The French are scheduled to provide the backbone of the international force to be stationed in west Beirut to supervise the withdrawal of PLO and Syrian forces and ensure their safety.
But France’s news media have been less discreet. Most editorials continue to blast Begin and accuse him of “meddling in France’s internal affairs.” Most editorials also imply that Franco-Israeli relations have reached a new low.
The French have expressed “shock” by who media commentators here say was a call by Begging for France’s young Jews “to form their own militia.” The Israeli Premier, reacting to the terrorist atrocity Monday, said that if the French government is unable to protect its Jewish citizens he would not hesitate to call on France’s Jewish youth to do so themselves. He never referred to a “militia.”
However, even most Jewish community leaders have expressed strong reservations on this subject. Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat has called on the Jewish youth “not to give in to provocations.” Alain de Rothschild, president of the central organization of French Jews (CRIF), stressed in repeated radio and television interviews that the Jewish community will continue to entrust its, safety to the “government and normal authorities.” Even maverick Jewish leader Henri Hajdenberg, who heads an activist splinter group, Jewish Renewal, said he is opposed to Jewish self-defense groups.
Simone Veil, a former Minister of Health and former President of the European Parliament, also came out strongly against Begin’s call. She said she is “vehemently opposed” to any form of self-defense, even on an individual basis.
Opposition parties have closed round the Mitterrand Administration on this issue. Most opposition leaders also support the government’s Middle East policy and its decision to take part in an international force.
TRYING TO SMOOTH DOWN TEMPERS
Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders, who last night gathered to pay tribute to the victims of Monday’s attack, are also trying to smooth down tempers and calm the more virulently outspoken members of Jewish youth movements. Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, who attended the services at Paris’ main synagogue, was booed by part of the crowd as he left. Other political leaders fared just as badly.
France’s Jewish community had previously supported the Socialists and especially Mitterrand. It has still not mended its fences with the former Gaul list majority, now the opposition. And Jewish leaders privately express their fears that the Jews risk finding themselves isolated and cut off from all major political parties and organizations.