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Jewish Agency Head’s Words Incense French Jewish Leader

February 10, 1998
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A war of words has erupted between the head of France’s Jewish community and the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

For the second time in two months, Avraham Burg, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, criticized the French Jewish leadership for being too soft on the issue of restitution.

“For a long time the problem of banking assets, stolen art work and real estate looted from Jews has been widely known in France. However, with the exception of a few individuals who have gathered information, no one from the Jewish community organizations has done anything,” Burg said in an interview with the French Jewish weekly Tribune Juive.

“The leaders of the French community fear a resurgence of anti-Semitism,” he said.

Burg made similar comments six weeks ago in an interview with the Swiss newspaper Le Journal de Geneve.

Henri Hajdenberg, president of the CRIF, France’s umbrella group for secular Jewish organizations, reacted angrily to Burg’s statements, calling them “a type of provocation” and “inadmissible interference.”

“What happened to the Jews of France is not the same as what happened to the Jews of Switzerland,” Hajdenberg said in an interview. “What happened in France was much more serious — tens of thousands of Jews were deported and murdered and millions of dollars cannot rectify that. This cannot be treated as a mere question of money.”

A government-appointed commission investigating the extent of the plundering of Jewish property in France has yet to determine how much was looted and what amount has already been returned.

Hajdenberg has repeatedly said he considers the issue to be a moral one. He also says the community is not seeking compensation, an approach that differs from the one taken by Jewish leaders in pushing for compensation from Swiss banks involved in plundered Nazi gold.

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