Giscard's pro-Arab tilt splits French Jewish community
Paris — A blue Star of David neatly adorns the window of a grocery shop selling vegetables, pickled herrings, and black Russian bread in Paris' 17th century Rue des Rosiers.
Nearby, in this traditionally Jewish quarter of the French capital, a wall poster blistered by rain warns: "Keep Arafat out. Don't let France destroy Israel." Farther down the narrow street, however, another poster proclaims: "Peace now for the Middle East. A homeland for both Jews and Palestinians alike."
Many of France's 700,000 Jews, the second largest European Jewish community outside Russia, are once again questioning where their true loyalties lie. Can one be both French and Jewish? Or must one choose between being Jewish or French?
Brought to a head by President Valery Giscard d'Estaing's recent visit to the Gulf states, where he loudly called for Palestinian self-determination, France's pro-Arab tendencies in its Middle East policy have angered many French Jews."It's a matter of survival for the Jewish community and the survival of Israel," wrote the French ethnic weekly, La Tribune Juive.
But just as French political life is divided among Gaullists, Giscardians, Socialists, and Communists, so, it appears, is the French Jewish community. "For the moment one cannot really talk of a Jewish lobby over here as one can in the United States," said one analyst.
In France, traditional and established Jewish organizations have taken up the defense of Israel. Left-wing intellectuals, on the other hand, tend to favor a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
"The Middle East issue must be politically resolved between Israeli and Palestinian representatives," believes French journalist Jean Liberman. "The solution will come with the recognition of Palestinian sovereignty."
Extremist Alain Krivine, leader of the Communist Revolutionary League, maintains that as a "militant revolutionary, I am not concerned."
Still, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's Middle East policies have irritated traditional Jewish circles enough to want to mobilize against government moves that "favor Arabs intent on the destruction of Israel's vital interests."
The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France, headed by Alain de Rothschild, has decided to pursue several tactics which it hopes will affect next year's presidential elections. The council has agreed to withhold electoral recommendations as well as to put across the Jewish position to the general public.
In Lyon, influential Jewish groups already have warned locally elected officials that they will withdraw all support until they have "clearly expressed themselves on the issue."
First indications of a "Jewish vote" in France surfaced during the 1973 legislative elections. Both former Foreign Minister Maurice Schumann and former Secretary of State Habib Deloncle failed to gain re-election in their constituencies because of their pro-Arab sympathies.
Analysts doubt, however, that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing could remotely suffer as much in the 1981 presidential elections from a Jewish lobby as Jimmy Carter did in the New York primaries. Yet Jewish pressure might generate enough negative publicity to seriously embarrass the administration.
Already, critics are triumphantly pointing out that the French President's Middle East trip has not yielded any tangible results other than assurances for the continued flow of oil. French firms have failed to secure anticipated contracts, and Kuwait did not place an order, as was hoped, for the European Airbus in which France is a major participant.
The Jewish vehemence against Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's Middle East policy is a great deal more poignant than it ever was against his predecessors, although in 1967, Charles de Gaulle aroused heated indignation from both Tel Aviv and French Jews at home when he slated Israel for being supercilious. Georges Pompidou bored rather than annoyed them with his prudent Middle East policy.
Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, while still a presidential candidate in 1974, promised to give Franco-Israeli relations a "climate of confidence and clarity."
As president, he at first made a conscientious effort to balance French relations with the Arabs and the Israelis. But many French Jews feel that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's "balance" quickly developed into a severe case of "ambiguity."
In 1974, he allowed Foreign Minister Jean Sauvagnargues to meet and shake hands with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. This so shocked both the Israelis and French Jews that several months later Mr. Giscard d'Estaing lifted the French arms embargo to Tel Aviv in order to calm tempers.
Later, France voted for recognition of the PLO at the United Nations and permitted the PLO to open an office in Paris. Tempers were again allayed, however, when the French President paid a solemn, well-publicized visit to Auschwitz concentration camp.
The greatest furor was aroused when the French government arrested, apparently by mistake, a nd then released Palestinian terrorist Abu Daoud, the mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. For many French Jews, this was confirmation enough that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing was willing to override basic, human morality to prevent upsetting the Arabs and damaging France's "oil relations."
The French Jewish community was particularly shocked when the French President visited Jordan and gazed down onto Israel from a military outpost with a pair of binoculars. Conscious of the effect this might have in France, the President refused to leave his helicopter until all the photographers and journalists had been ushered conveniently away.
Accusing the French President of "duplicity" and a "lack of dignity," Jewish editorialist Annie Kriegel warned that such attitudes would accustom public opinion to the isolation of Israel, and that indifference would only encourage the abandonment of the Jewish community.
For many older-generation French Jews, the collaboration of the French government and police with the Nazis during World War II in the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews still remains a bitter memory, particularly with regard to the general lack of protest among the French population when they saw their fellow citizens being led away.
Henri Hajdenberg, founder of the Renouveau Juif (Jewish Revival) believes that French Jews will be a force to be reckoned with. The Jews of France, he maintains, "are now voting like everyone else. Tomorrow they will vote like good French citizens, but they will not vote like anyone else."