The recent visit of French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal to Israel and her moving speech about the Holocaust victims did not convince Jewish leaders to shift allegiance from their protégé Nicolas Sarkozy, the potential candidate of the ruling Union for Popular Movement (UPM).
For French Jews, Sarkozy has translated his love for Israel into concrete steps and refrained from only paying lip service to the “Jewish cause.”
Sarkozy has built a reputation of being a staunch supporter for Israel.
He was praised by Patrick Gaubert, the head of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, as a “real star” among the French Jews estimated at 500,000.
Proud to be a son of a Hungarian immigrant and a mother of Greek Jewish origin, Sarkozy describes himself a “friend of Israel.”
During a recent visit to Israel earlier this year, he met with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and promised to abandon time-honored France’s pro-Arab policies if he became president.
Sarkozy seldom misses a Jewish religious occasion in France.
Sarkozy’s ratings among minorities in France, particularly the sizable Muslim and Arab minorities, hit all-time low last year when he called immigrant suburbanites “scum” afterthousands of youths in the high-immigration suburbs took to the streets to protest the death of two youth fleeing police in Clichy-Sous-Bois outside Paris.
More than half of France’s 5-6 million Muslims are eligible voters.
Prominent French politicians and Jewish leaders in France say the Jewish support for Sarkozy is something taking for granted.
“It makes every sense that French Jews rally behind Sarkozy,” French Minister for Regional Development Christian Estrosi has said.
Roger Cukierman, president of the representative council of French Jews, agreed.
“Sarkozy has taken a clear stance during the recent Lebanon war when he considered Israel a ’victim of terrorist attacks’,” he said.
Israellaunched a 34-day onslaught on Lebanon in July, killing to 1,300 Lebanese civilians, a third of whom were children, and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
Leading French dailies have also run profiles for Sarkozy, highlighting his close ties with Israel and Jewish leaders worldwide.
“Sarkozy is the candidate of France’s Jews,” headlined Le Liberation newspaper in a recent article.
In his recent visit to the United States, Sarkozy was keen on meeting Jewish leaders, particularly from the influential American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
A recent opinion poll showed that Sarkozy is running neck-to-neck with Royal in their race for the Elysee.
The survey, carried out last Thursday and Friday by the IFOP institute, suggests the presidential battle will become a duel between Royal and Sarkozy, both of whom have vowed to shake up France’s traditionally cosy world of politics with reforms and populist strategies.
Royal Under Fire
The Jewish resentment at the Socialist presidential runner and her meeting with a Hizbullah Member of Parliament has also helped draw more Jewish support for Sarkozy.
In a meeting with Hizbullah lawmaker Ali Ammar last week in Beirut, Royal voiced agreement with his remarks that US foreign policy smacked of “insanity”.
She said she shared his views “on a lot of things, notably his analysis of the role of the United States.”
Ammar also compared Israel’s practices against Lebanon during its recent offensive with “Nazism.”
But the meeting immediately provoked diatribe from French Jewish leaders, who said that Royal failed to condemn immediately Ammar’s remarks.
Sarkozy’s supporters also opened salvoes at the Socialist candidate.
Hizbullah is a “terrorist party that aims to destroy Israel,” said Sarkozy’s political adviser François Felon, blaming the resistance group for sparking the recent war with Israel.
Caught off guard by the storm over her remarks, Royal was forced to amend her comments by saying she meant to criticize only Washington’s military adventure in Iraq.
She said she drew a distinction between the policies of US President George W. Bush’s White House and “the wider policies of the United States.”
She also said she did not hear Ammar’s “Nazism” comment — “otherwise I would have left the room.”
Royal had organized her Middle East trip — which on the weekend saw her traveling on to Israel and the Palestinian territories — to counter criticism in France that she was a political lightweight with a poor grasp of foreign policy.
By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent /.islamonline