Nicolas Sarkozy: A True Friend of Israel?

Nicolas Sarkozy: A True Friend of Israel?

PARIS -- "Nicolas Sarkozy: A Demanding Friend of Israel" Thus ran the headline on Tuesday's edition of the French daily Le Figaro, a day after Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French president to address the Israeli Knesset since François Mitterrand in 1982. In his speech (French link), Sarkozy himself insisted that he was a friend of Israel -- even a "dear and steadfast" friend -- and the tone was indeed friendly.

"France will always be at Israel's side when its security and its existence are threatened," he said, ". . . I have always felt this from the bottom of my heart and I will never compromise on it." And then he added in an allusion to Iran: "And those who scandalously call for the destruction of Israel will always find France blocking their way." Sarkozy characterized himself as a friend of Israel no less than four times in the speech and described France as a whole as Israel's "friend" another three times. It was clear, however, that so much emphasis was placed on this self-avowed friendliness precisely in order to demand what Sarkozy himself admitted would be "painful" concessions from Israel: most notably, a stop to settlement activity and the recognition of Jerusalem as a divided city serving as capital to both Israel and a Palestinian state.

The very next day, moreover, during a joint press conference in Bethlehem with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Sarkozy's tone was significantly less friendly -- toward Israel, at any rate. Indeed, Sarkozy went so far as to employ one of the stock motifs of contemporary "anti-Zionism": drawing a moral equivalence between the "injustice" done to "the Jewish people" -- presumably a reference to the Holocaust -- and the "injustice" allegedly done by Israel to the Palestinians and darkly insinuating that in the minds of Israelis the two were somehow related. "I told our Israeli friends," Sarkozy said sternly, "that one won't resolve the injustice done to the Jewish people by creating the conditions of an injustice for the Palestinian people."

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