WASHINGTON (Feb. 12)
The U.S. State Department has reacted sharply to threatening anti-Jewish remarks allegedly made last month by Yasir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in a telephone conversation with the PLO’s Paris representative.
State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher on Wednesday described as “clearly outrageous” Arafat’s reputed description of Jews as “dogs, filth, dirt.”
“Comments like this,” he said, “can only be described as disparaging and obnoxious.”
However, Boucher said the remarks, which were recorded from a private conversation, would have no impact on the Arab-Israeli peace talks in progress.
But he added, “Racist and hateful rhetoric have no place in the peace process.”
A U.S. Jewish organizational leader was also incensed by the vituperative comments, which were recorded in Arabic by an unidentified Western law-enforcement agency and broadcast in English on the Cable News Network.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, called Arafat’s reported characterization of Jews “loathsome and despicable” and said it proved “that this international terrorist is not only anti-Israel and anti-Zionist, as he has claimed, but also a vicious Jew-hater.”
Hoenlein urged that Arafat not be allowed to address the U.N. Human Rights Commission currently meeting in Geneva. The commission announced Monday that the PLO chief had been invited to speak from the podium, an honor reserved for heads of state.
PLO OFFICIAL DENIES COMMENTS
In the conversation with PLO representative Ibrahim Souss, Arafat also blasted the French government for the furor that erupted in Paris at the end of January over the admittance to France of George Habash, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Habash was at a Red Cross clinic for unspecified medical treatment. For permitting his brief stay there, six top French government officials were forced to resign.
The telephone call was made Jan. 30, presumably from PLO headquarters in Tunis, according to Steven Emerson, a special assignment correspondent for CNN who broke the story.
Emerson said the conversation was confirmed to be that of Arafat and Souss by a journalist and Arab specialists.
And CNN stood by the tape’s authenticity.
But in Paris, Souss denied it and threatened to sue CNN for defamation of character.
He said, “I categorically deny the comments attributed to President Yasir Arafat and myself and reserve all my rights to action against the authors of this media manipulation.”
Souss said playing the tape had been intended to cover up “bellicose” Israeli goals in the peace talks.
The voice that appears to be Arafat’s even indicated awareness that the telephone had been tapped. In fact, he said, “Let them record this and play it on television.”
Habash checked into the Red Cross hospital with an undisclosed illness and returned to Tunis on Feb. 1.
The voice that appeared to be Arafat’s expressed outrage at the treatment of Habash and the clamor that he be arrested for questioning about past terrorist acts attributed to the PFLP.
He complained that a sick man was being hounded out of France.
WILL ‘SETTLE ACCOUNTS’ WITH JEWS
The voice attributed to Souss assured the other that “the (French) government had nothing to do with this matter at all. It’s the opposition and the Jews. The Jews, they are at work.”
The voice said to be Arafat’s responded: “The Jews at work. Damn their fathers. The dogs. Filth and dirt. All for this one sick man. I took care of and treated their ill and sick (POWs). But trash is always trash.
“And thanks to the rotten Jews, with whom I will settle accounts in the future. For a sick man. What did we send him, to have fun on the Champs Elysees? We sent him to the Red Cross.”
Emerson remarked that Arafat also unleashed “a broadside at the French, often seen as the PLO’s best friends in Europe.”
He noted that “publicly, over the last few years, Arafat and the PLO have been conciliatory toward Israel. Yet if Arafat’s comments are interpreted as provocative, this episode could damage the new Middle East peace talks launched by the United States.”
Emerson did not say why his source had leaked the bugged conversation to CNN.
Habash’s group, the PFLP, was founded in 1967 under the PLO umbrella but broke away from Arafat’s mainstream Fatah faction, saying it was too conciliatory. But while Habash and Arafat have been fiercely at odds over policy, their personal relationship seems not to have been affected.
Arafat is reported to have summoned a French ambulance plane to Tunis to transport Habash to Paris and to have personally escorted him to the plane.
(JTA correspondent Michel Di Paz in Paris contributed to this report.)