Israel dismisses Arafats visit to the Anne Frank House

AMSTERDAM — Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's visit to the Amsterdam house where Anne Frank hid during World War II might have been low-key here, but it made headlines in Israel.

A handful of passers-by received Arafat at the museum with a mixture of applause and whistles.

"We only had one bomb alert," said Schelto Patijn, the mayor of Amsterdam.

Arafat spent some 20 minutes in the Anne Frank House. He viewed a video about Anne Frank, starting with archival material from Bergen-Belsen, where she was killed.

"He was very quiet while watching this," said Patijn.

While traveling to the airport after the visit, Arafat said: "It was a very sad story."

Asked whether he equated the Holocaust with the suffering of the Palestinian people, he said, "Not exactly, but we suffer."

Meanwhile, Israeli officials dismissed Arafat's visit as "meaningless" and a "gimmick." Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh, who heads a governmental forum that tracks anti-Semitism, told Israel Army Radio, "If the Palestinian chairman wants to express a message of recognition of the awful suffering of the Jewish people in the murder of the 6 million, this is not the way."

But Israeli Knesset member Naomi Hazan of the Meretz Party applauded Arafat's visit, saying it demonstrated an understanding of the connection between the Holocaust and the state of Israel.

Arafat's visit, which came at his own request, followed the January controversy surrounding his proposed visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, which led to the resignation of the museum's director, Walter Reich. The Palestinian leader canceled that visit at the last minute, citing a scheduling conflict.

The city of Amsterdam, intent on avoiding a similar media circus, gave short notice of Arafat's tour, which was dubbed a "private visit" by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But Patijn said, "The president of the Palestinian National Authority does not pay private visits. I'm treating his visit to Amsterdam as I would treat a visit from President Herzog or the president of Turkey."