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Palestinian massacre may be fanning anti-Semitism in France

Frenchmen, Jew and non-Jew alike, universally condemned the massacre of Palestinians in the Beirut camps. But France's 700,000 Jews, the world's fourth-largest Jewish community, say the condemnation of the tragedy may be fanning anti-Semitism here.

''There is a terrible atmosphere being created,'' says Sabine Roitman of CRIF , the Representative Committee of Jewish Organizations. ''Israelis are being equated with assassins and Jews are being equated with assassins.''

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Mrs. Roitman's fears follow a series of attacks on Jewish persons and property throughout the summer here, which culminated in an Aug. 9 machine-gunning of a lunchtime crowd at Jo Goldenberg's Jewish restaurant and a Sept. 16 bombing of an Israeli diplomat's car.

Now leading Jews, and many sympathetic non-Jews as well, argue that the anti-Semitism they see in France is of a mostly nontraditional nature. It is not primarily religious or racial, but political. It is tied to the events of the Middle East, and it is strongly, perhaps more strongly, held by the far-left than the far-right.

''It is an intellectual shift,'' says Shimon Samuels of the Anti-Defamation League here. ''The Jew who has always been seen as the victim has become the Nazi, the butcher, who now must be destroyed.''

Samuels and others here base their argument on the response of the French Communist Party and the leftist French press to the invasion of Lebanon in general, and the Palestinian massacre in particular.

The Communist Party's political bureau blamed the Israeli government for sponsoring a ''pogrom,'' and an editorialist in the party newspaper, l'Humanite described the massacre as an attempt to commit ''genocide.''

In the leftist daily, Liberation, an editorialist compared the Israeli Army to the Wermacht. The two armies are both ''guilty of war crimes. For theirs, the Nazis used that 'specialists' militia or the SS.'' By using Major Haddad's militia in similar fashion, the newspaper said, ''we are witnessing a major perversion of the Jewish ethic.''

These statements raised a public furor. The conservative Quotidien de Paris denounced them as constituting ''rampant anti-Semitism.'' Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy went out of his way last week to comfort French Jews.

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''The abominable excesses committed in Lebanon must in no case serve as a pretext for an anti-Semitic campaign,'' the prime minister told the National Assembly. ''I say this with more force because the Jewish community in our country, which is now celebrating its traditional holidays, has been the victim of attacks just as cowardly and odious.''

Mr. Mauroy's reaction shows how concerned the French government is about the problem - and how different anti-Semitism is expressed in France today.

''Jews are absolutely free to do anything they want, travel anywhere, study in any school, take any job, and practice their religion with complete freedom, '' says Jacqueline Keller, director of CRIF. ''The French government guarantees those rights.''

But because the history of anti-Semitism here runs so deep, French Jews are worried that the country's reaction to the massacre may spur another wave of anti-Semitism. Against this fear, they are often overreacting.

When teachers in a high school in the Marais, the traditional Parisian Jewish neighborhood, called off morning classes to demonstrate their ''indignation'' over the massacre, students pelted them with vegetables.

Some demonstrations also turned into similarly ugly confrontations. Zionist and Palestinian supporters shouted insults at each other last week at a protest meeting against terrorism, on the spot where the Israeli diplomat's car was blown up. During other marches, Jews scuffled with pro-Palestinian demonstrators and beat up television reporters, yelling ''journalists, liars.''

But the French press was not the only cause for Jewish emotion last week. The massacre itself, just as it has with American Jews, cut to the heart of the French community's solidarity with the government of Menachem Begin.

Jewish intellectuals wrote critical articles and Jews on the street openly criticized Israel in interviews with reporters. Even one of the most prominent militant Zionist leaders, Henri Hajdenberg, of ''Renouveau Juif,'' condemned the Israeli Army.

''It appears that the Israeli Army did not intervene,'' he said. ''Tzahal (the Israel Defense Forces) did not keep its mission of maintaining order.''

But fear of increased anti-Semitism here dominates the community's sentiments. ''We hope everything will stay relatively calm,'' Mrs. Roitman said. ''But there is an atmosphere of anti-Semitism here now. We are not sure.''

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