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Friday, August 27, 1999




PARIS - A leading French writer stirred up a storm of controversy yesterday by saying the late President Francois Mitterrand had once complained to him about "the powerful and noxious influence of the Jewish lobby in France."

Jean d'Ormesson, a member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, reported in his latest book, "The Gabriel Report," that Mitterrand had made the remark in a conversation on May 17, 1995, the last day of his 14-year presidency.

The writer's move drew criticism from Mitterrand's illegitimate daughter and denials from Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and other fellow Socialists, but also statements supporting d'Ormesson.

In excerpts published in the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, d'Ormesson said he had asked Mitterrand about his longtime friendship with pro-Nazi wartime police chief Rene Bosquet which had tarnished the Socialist leader's image late in his life.

"Francois Mitterrand listened to me without any apparent irritation and looked at me. 'Here you see,' he said, 'the powerful and noxious influence of the Jewish lobby in France," d'Ormesson wrote.

Mitterrand, who died in 1996, also saw his reputation dented late in his life by revelations that he had worked for the collaborationist Vichy regime before joining the wartime resistance.

Under the Vichy regime, 75,000 Jews were sent from France to Nazi death camps. France's current Jewish community, numbering about 750,000, is the largest in western Europe.

Mitterrand's illegitimate daughter Mazarine Pingeot denounced d'Ormesson for slandering a dead man and defended her father as a crusader against anti-Semitism. "I'm ashamed to have to ask the question, but did he ever, even once, betray his commitments to the Jewish community or any other community under threat?" she wrote in the daily Le Monde.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, a fellow Socialist who sometimes differed with Mitterrand, said he had several long discussions with the president about the French Jewish community and the situation of Jews around the world.

"In his thoughts and in his emotions, anti-Semitism was foreign to Francois Mitterrand," Jospin said in a statement. A Mitterrand ally, former Culture Minister Jack Lang, suggested to Le Monde that d'Ormesson might not have remembered that final meeting accurately.

But a friend of Mitterrand and d'Ormesson, journalist Jean Daniel, confirmed the president had sometimes complained about a "Zionist lobby" but added that did not make him an anti-Semite.





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