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valerie hoffenberg

  • At the Quai d’Orsay

    Valerie Hoffenberg is the kind of Jew I was told did not exist in France. A former director of the American Jewish Committee field office in Paris, and a bigwig at the CRIF (the rough — and I stress rough — equivalent of the Conference of Presidents), Hoffenberg has been serving for over a year as Nicolas Sarkozy’s special representative for the economic, cultural, commercial, educational and environmental dimensions of the Middle East peace process.
    This in a country where, I’m often told, Jews feel they shouldn’t advertise their identity too much, where wearing a yarmulke to work or asking for time off for religious holidays just isn’t done. All these things runs afoul of France’s commitment to secularism — or less charitably, of its seething underbelly of anti-Semitism.
    Hoffenberg was all too happy to disabuse me of that notion, and to reassure me that she does, in fact, exist.
    “It’s not easy,” she said. “There are not so many people like me. It’s true that there are many people who are Jewish who try not to say it openly, or not to mention it too much. But that was not my case.”
    I met Hoffenberg Monday afternoon in her high-ceilinged office on the second floor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a sprawling fortress of a building along the Seine. After passing through security, I was led down a dimly lit hallway lined with high resolution photos of French diplomacy in action, including one section detailing the Ministry’s efforts in the Palestinian territories.
    My escort was a stern woman in a fitted white jacket who clearly didn’t abide pleasantries. I trailed three feet behind her except when we reached a door, whereupon she’d hold it open for me to walk through before scurrying back in front. She led me up a flight of winding carpeted stairs, through a glass door inscribed "Secretariat d’Etat aux Affaires Etrangeres Cabinet," and deposited me on a low couch. She never once looked back. More ▸