NEW YORK (Aug. 30)
Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat of France, in the United States for the first time since the recent wave of terrorist attacks on Jewish and Israeli installations in France, said here today that the elements responsible for these actions are part of an organized effort to “destabilize Western democracies.”
“The Jewish community of France has been singled out for attack,” Sirat, speaking in French, said through an interpreter at a news conference held under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress – American Section. “I am not sure of the reason but probably because … it is a community that affirms its Jewishness.”
Sirat pointed out that France’s Jewish community, numbering between 650,000-700,000, is characterized by its “profound sense of attachment and solidarity ” with Israel and Soviet Jewry. The French Jewish community is the largest in the free world outside the U.S. he said.
CITES ROLE OF THE MEDIA
Addressing the issue of anti – Semitism in France and the terrorist attacks which culminated earlier this month when six people were killed and 22 wounded by terrorists who opened fire in Jo Goldenberg’s restaurant in the heart of Paris’ Jewish quarter, the Marais, Sirat would not attribute these actions directly to a climate of incitement which may have been created in France, as some have suggested, nor would he blame the media for its coverage of Israel’s “Peace for Galilee” operation.
“It is not my intention to condemn the press in general terms or to formulate any judgement,” Sirat said. “I believe that journalists are responsible to their own conscience … but it seems to me that a certain amount of responsibility is called for” when covering events like Israel’s action in Lebanon.
He then cited as an example the recent incident in which on allegedly armless Lebanese infant was pictured in newspapers around the world and which was reported to be displayed on President Reagan’s desk as a symbol of the suffering in Lebanon as a result of Israel’s invasion. Israeli officials, after investigating the fate of the child, found that the child’s arms were intact.
Sirat said sincere concern has been expressed by the Administration of President France is Mitterrand over the wave of terrorism. He said this was underscored by the appearance of Mitterrand and Interior minister Gaston Defferre at a memorial service following the attack on Goldenberg’s restaurant.
He said the entire religious leadership in France — Protestant, Catholic and Moslem — sent condolences after the attack on the restaurant and that he also received a “very warm” message from former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing.
DIFFERENT REACTIONS TO TERRORISM
The Chief Rabbi noted that there were distinct difference in condolences expressed by the Mitterrand Administration and those offered by Chancellor Bruno Kreisky of Austria after a terrorist attack on a Vienna synagogue last year. Sirat said that Kreisky not only did not attend the memorial service for the victims of that attack but released a statement charging that the incident was partially a result of Israel’s policies in the Middle East.
Sirat suggested that time was needed to see if the plans outlined by Mitterrand two weeks ago to combat terrorism will have on effect. He said that while steps have been taken to curtail violent incidents, no arrests have yet been made in connection with the attack on Goldenberg’s restaurant or the bombing of the Rue Copemic synagogue two years ago.
“What is very grove in my eyes is the fact that over the years, no terrorists have been arrested, which can be taken as a sign of encouragement to other terrorists to continue and increase their attacks, ” Sirat said. Asked whether there was a “plan of action” which the Jewish community might take to combat future terrorist attacks, he replied: “Plans of action are the responsibility of governments, and I, as a rabbi, have a more spiritual task.”