PARIS (Oct. 29)
French President Jacques Chirac upset not only Israel and the United States during his six-day visit to the Middle East.
Leading voices in France’s Jewish community said this week that they felt betrayed by Chirac’s overt pro-Arab positions, adding that his behavior was too biased for someone posing as a mediator.
During his trip last week, the French leader called on Israel to back the creation of a Palestinian state and to return the Golan Heights to Syria, stances firmly rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And while he addressed the Palestinian legislative council, he refused to address the Israeli Knesset.
Chirac, who was campaigning for a European peacemaking role in the Middle East, also praised President Hafez Assad of Syria.
His very public display of fury at Israeli police during his tour of Jerusalem’s Old City was also seen by many as pandering to Arab interests.
“The mind set of the Jewish community in France today is incomprehension, disappointment and concern. The community is having a hard time understanding the French position,” said Henri Hajdenberg, president of CRIF, the umbrella group of secular French Jewish organizations.
“In diplomacy, there are two types of behavior: discreet or spectacular. France has fallen into the latter, by taking sides publicly, which reflects its political points of view, not those of a mediator, who is expected to bring together the parties involved,” he added.
The chief rabbi of France, Joseph Sitruk, has asked to meet with Chirac “to better understand what he meant.”
“It’s true that Jacques Chirac has a pro-Arab policy. He didn’t hide it. I am among the individuals who deplore it,” Sitruk told Jewish Radio.
Chirac was clearly following in the footsteps of his mentor, President Charles de Gaulle, who conducted a pro-Arab policy after imposing an embargo on Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War.
The sense of betrayal felt by the French Jewish community was heightened by the fact that Chirac last year became France’s first president to acknowledge publicly the role of French civil servants in sending Jews to Nazi death camps during World War II.
Previous postwar French leaders had refused to apologize publicly for the actions of the Vichy collaborationist regime.