By Daniel Ben Simon
It was a very embarrassing moment. The scene: the lobby of the King David
Hotel in Jerusalem. The players: Segolene Royal's spokesman Julian Dray and a
representative of CRIF, the umbrella organization of the Jewish community in
France. "I have nothing to talk to you about!" said Dray heatedly to the
astonished Jewish representative. "You have sold your soul to the other side;
you have nothing to look for with us. Go back to your friend Nicolas Sarkozy;
he's your landlord."
The CRIF representative tried with all his might to convince Dray that his
organization is taking an absolutely objective position with regard to the
presidential race in France. But Dray stuck to his guns. "You are going to pay
dearly for your one-sided mustering," he went on to shout. "Segolene will be
president, and you will have to pray for her to receive you for a discussion."
The incident occurred Sunday evening, a few minutes before the discussion that
Royal held with journalists about what she viewed as a successful visit to
Israel. Dray, an influential parliament member with the Socialist Party,
expressed the anger that has built up in the Royal camp against the Jewish
community, and especially against the organization headed by Roger Cukierman.
It is an open secret that the Jews as an organized body have sworn allegiance
to the candidate of the right, Sarkozy. At every opportunity, he meets with
them and consults with them. At every opportunity they evince enthusiasm for
him that is intended to convey the impression they are supporting him in his
race for the presidency.
This is the reason Royal did not accept an invitation to meet with the heads
of the organization in recent months. This is also the reason she ignored
their existence when she decided at the last minute to pop over to Israel and
the reason the party spokesman related to the representative of the
organization as though he were a leper.
In the past, French leaders who came to visit Israel would take along a
representative of CRIF, to demonstrate their connection to the Jews. Royal
came to Israel with her own people and left the people of the organization
helpless. The latter scorned her at first and saw her as a passerby who had
stumbled into a battle of titans. Later on, when she started to gather
momentum, they sent out probes to her camp to create conditions for
friendship. When she defeated the men in her party in the first round, the
heads of CRIF realized they had erred in their bet. After they recovered from
the shock of her victory, they were certain that in the final race, their man,
Sarkozy, would defeat her with one hand tied behind his back. And now, the
latest surveys are indicating a close race with a slight edge for Royal.
What should they do? They are trying to carry out an elegant retreat and
signal to the Royal camp that the Jews, in fact, have not yet decided who they
think is the preferable candidate. However, it is possible that CRIF's
mustering for Sarkozy has already created a deep crisis of trust with the
It has always happened that when France faces major decisions, the Jews try to
appear neutral. In a desperate attempt not to become embroiled with the
leading political forces, they have tried to adopt an open-bridges policy in
their contacts with the two major parties.
However, recently they have been attacked by an acute desire to resemble the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). For years, the American
lobby has been standing up as a defensive wall behind the hawkish views in
Israel. The heads of the right have been greeted as heroes at its conferences,
whereas the heads of the left have pleaded in vain for similar treatment.
The heads of CRIF took a step and learned it came with a price. "It has never
yet happened to us that we have not had a connection with any key person in a
candidate's headquarters," admitted a senior figure in the organization.
This is why they are trying to make a pilgrimage to Julian Dray, so he can
blaze a path for them to the candidate's heart. However Dray, a declared Jew
and staunch supporter of Israel whose brother works here as a doctor, has
turned his back on them.
It is no wonder, then, that the first to make accusations against Royal in the
wake of her visit to Israel have been the heads of CRIF. While in official
Israel they have forgiven her for her stumble in Lebanon and have seen it as
the mistake of a novice, the heads of CRIF have attacked her for daring to
meet with a Hezbollah representative. The organization has issued an
extraordinary statement of condemnation in which it reminded Royal that the
Shi'ite organization is responsible for mass murders, and that its radio
station disseminates anti-Semitism. All is fair in war - and both sides are
sharpening their swords in anticipation of the continuation of the fight.
This situation does not work to the benefit of French Jews, of Israel and of
relations between the two countries. CRIF achieved its greatness because it
appeared to be a bridge that stretched over the turbulent waters of French
politics. This is the reason the elders of the country, no matter from which
camp, went to the trouble of accepting every invitation to appear before its
members, in the knowledge that the Jewish organization is a French institution
that rises above political disputes.
And there is another risk inherent here. When the alliance between the Jews
and the presidential candidate of the right becomes a consolidated fact, the
voters from Muslim backgrounds will flock to the Socialist candidate to serve
as a counterweight to the Jews.
To the extent that the Jews will expect a return for their support of Sarkozy,
the Muslims will expect a similar return for their support of Royal. If this
happens, the distance between the two communities, which are embroiled in any
case, is liable to grow even larger.
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