French Jews Demonstrate on Eve of PLO Leader’s Visit

Times Staff Writer

On the eve of a two-day visit to France by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, Jewish groups and sympathizers demonstrated Monday outside a delicatessen-restaurant where terrorists killed six people in 1982.

In the first of several protests against the “official visit” by Arafat, who will meet with French President Francois Mitterrand this morning, protesters waved Israeli flags and shouted “Arafat, assassin!” in a Jewish neighborhood of the Marais district.

More demonstrations are planned today at a synagogue that terrorists bombed in 1980. Meanwhile, Arab groups and Arafat sympathizers plan a counterdemonstration in another district of the French capital.


The demonstrations reflect the bitter divisions in the French Jewish and Arab communities over the visit. Although Arafat met previously with political leaders in Italy and Spain, PLO leaders consider the Mitterrand invitation the organization’s most important acknowledgment since Arafat declared Israel’s right to exist and renounced terrorism on behalf of the PLO late last year.

“The decision by President Mitterrand is courageous,” Arafat said in an interview in a French magazine. He called France “the premier power on the Mediterranean.”

The visit was condemned Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

“I see this meeting as an affront to the friendship between Israel and France. I also believe this meeting damages the chances of peace in the Middle East,” Shamir said on Israel Radio.

Mitterrand, the first French president ever to visit Israel, attempted to reassure the French Jewish community with a Passover letter that discussed the Arafat visit.

“France will not forget either the victims of the Holocaust or of blind terrorism,” Mitterrand wrote. “This cruel and despicable past remains in our memories as we conduct foreign policy. But this policy is founded on the idea of dialogue, which means listening to all the protagonists.”

The French government has emphasized that the Arafat visit does not imply recognition of a Palestinian state.


In fact, the French Jewish community itself is deeply divided over the visit. Marie-Claire Mendes France, widow of former Premier Pierre Mendes France, a Jew, said: “I think it is a good idea for Francois Mitterrand to listen to what Yasser Arafat has to say.”

“Yasser Arafat is my enemy,” leading French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy said. “He is the enemy of all the Jews. I understand totally those who are revolted by the visit. That said, let’s get serious. It is with one’s enemies, not one’s friends, that one negotiates.”

As the anti-Arafat demonstration raged outside his delicatessen and restaurant, the site of an August, 1982, attack in which six were killed and 22 seriously injured, owner Jo Goldenberg, 67, seemed caught himself in the same ambiguity about the visit. Goldenberg said he is convinced that Arafat or his organization was behind the attack, in which two men burst into the restaurant and opened fire with machine-pistols.

Still, he is not sure the Arafat visit is such a bad thing.

“It is very delicate,” he said. “On the one hand, it is very awkward and embarrassing for the Jewish community in France. On the other hand, I can’t say I am totally against the visit. I am also French. The best interests of France may have nothing to do with Israel.”