Sarkozy, Israel and the Jews

Nicolas Sarkozy is a complicated man.

The incoming French president’s tough immigration policies and pro-business economic plans could pull France out of its economic doldrums. Or they might spark mass-demonstrations of the sort La Republique is famous for.

One place people won’t be hitting the streets, however, is Israel. More than 90 percent of French expatriates living in the Jewish state cast their ballots for Sarkozy, a personal friend of both Ehud Olmert and fellow rightist Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sarkozy is undoubtedly the most Israel-friendly president since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

With leadership that doesn’t reflexively shun the Israelis and a careful maintenance of France’s longstanding ties with the Palestinians, France might spur real progress in the Mideast. On the other hand, despite Sarkozy’s aggressive talk about Islamism, France still has billions of euros tied up in Muslim nations that the new president will not blow off.

How life will change for France’s Jews is also a good question. While it has been repeated, ad nauseum — and most egregiously in the American Jewish press — that Jews voted overwhelmingly for Sarkozy, there doesn’t seem to be any quantitative evidence presented to back up that notion.

What Sarkozy did do — much to his benefit, politically — is cultivate close relationships with French Jewish leaders. Sarkozy, the grandson of a Greek Jew, ascended to the powerful position of interior minister in 2002 with reports of violent anti-Semitism rippling across France. To his credit, he shunned his predecessors’ strategy of downplaying the problem and vocally condemned anti-Semitism.

Sarkozy has repeatedly claimed that he turned back anti-Semitism in France with his law-and-order policies. Unlike French Jewish voting patterns, however, there is quantifiable data about that — and it doesn’t appear to support his claim.

From 2002 to 2006, reported anti-Jewish activity bobbed and weaved, up and down. After a slight drop in 2003, the year 2004 was the worst on record, with a reported 970 anti-Semitic acts. The next year was way down, but 2006 saw another bump. In short, it would be presumptuous to credit Sarkozy for a decline in anti-Jewish behavior — a decline that is far from an established pattern.

Nicolas Sarkozy is a complicated man. He is a polarizing figure who brings hope and fear to the hearts of France. There is reason for both. But thinking he will wave a magic wand and solve the problems of France, Israel and Jews worldwide would be foolish.