PARIS (Mar. 7)
France, once Israel’s best friend and ally, has since become her main opponent in the Western world. The split started with Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s advent to power. First, there were small misunderstandings which were followed by open frictions, mutual suspicions and severe crises. Even after de Gaulle’s resignation in 1968, relations failed to improve.
It was under his successor, President Georges Pompidou, that France embargoed the 50 Mirages that Israel had bought and paid for. Both under Pompidou and under President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, France supported Arab demands for Israeli withdrawal from “the” occupied territories and for the creation of a Palestinian state. France has sold arms to all the Arab states who wanted to buy them, and Arab leaders from Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat to Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi have come to consider France as their “friend and ally.
It was a French Foreign Minister, Jean Sauvagnargues, who was the first Western statesman to meet Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat and publicly shake his hand. It was another French Foreign Minister, Michel Jobert, who legitimized the Arab attack against Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
Because of its central position within the European Economic Community (EEC), France has even managed to influence its eight EEC partners to adopt similar positions and turn Western Europe from a reliable pro-Israeli base to a neutral one, at best, and an openly hostile one, at worst.
BASIC QUESTIONS CONSIDERED
The situation has slightly improved during the last two years. A Franco-Israeli dialogue has been instituted: French Ministers no longer speak about a Palestinian state and the government has abstained from launching diplomatic campaigns dealing with the Middle East. This improvement has, however, been more a matter of form than of essence as France and Israel basically advocate opposite policies in the Mideast.
The forthcoming French elections March 12 and 19 might change the regime for the first time since the Gaullists took over 20 years ago. Many in France hope that this country’s approach to the Mideast and Israel will also change should the current opposition take the reins of government. Basic questions to be considered are: can France’s policy change and what role will the country’s Jews play in that process?
Is there a Jewish umbrella organization in France and how influential is it?
There is nothing comparable to such Jewish groups as, say, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in the U.S. or the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The Representative Council of Jews in France (CRIF), an organization which wants to resemble the Presidents Conference, has been trying to fill this role.
Unfortunately, the organizations which adhere to it are themselves small and uninfluential. These organizations not only have few members, but they have never managed to attract the country’s influential Jews–the successful executives, academicians or politicians.
PROBLEM OF LEADERSHIP
France, contrary to America, is not a country of immigration, nor, like Britain, a country of easy assimilation. The successful Jews usually come from old French Jewish families and try to assimilate into French society. Most of the adherents to the Jewish organizations are either East European Jews who arrived in France before or shortly after World War II or even more recent arrivals from North Africa.
The CRIF has not managed to develop close links with French political leaders or political parties. Because of its structure and lack of any strong personality at its head, the few actions it has taken are timid and appear half-hearted.
CRIF President Baron Alain de Rothschild announced last week that the Jewish community will be influenced by the personal record of the various candidates on Israeli or Jewish issues and will not back any one single party or list of candidates.
It sent out a questionnaire but most candidates referred it to their party headquarters, thus returning stereotyped answers. The only organization with some political influence is the Alliance France-Israel. The Alliance is close to Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac but by influencing his policies on the subject, it has indirectly forced, to varying degrees, his competitors to do the same.
ROLE OF THE ARAB LOBBY
Is there an Arab lobby?
There are two main pro-Arab lobbies. One consists of the oil companies and the big corporations which do business with the Arab states and which have close links mainly with the center-right coalition now in power. The other, consists of leftist elements, generally pro-Palestinian, and is closely connected with the left-wing of the Socialist Party.
They have to take into account, however, the basically anti-Arab feelings of the French population. The anti-Arab French racism is still strong. It started with France’s colonies in North Africa, erupted into the open during the Algerian was and is being fanned on now by the presence in France of some two million North African workers and dependents.
They often openly clash with the local French population and many French workers feel that in this period of unemployment, the North Africans are taking away their jobs. This strong anti-Arab feeling, which runs throughout the French population, helps to disarm the pro-Arab lobbies in the country.
THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM
Are the political parties trying to woo the Jewish electorate?
This is a double problem: on the national and on the local level. On the national level, no party, with the exception of the small Left-Wing Radicals, has tried to win over the Jewish vote by openly making a play for it. The major parties feel that the Jewish electorate is too small, about one percent of the population, to make a real impact on the election results.
The major parties’ strategists also believe that by making an open appeal to the Jewish voters they would antagonize other, more numerous sectors of the population. Most parties are also split within themselves on their policy an Israel and the Middle East.
On the local level, the matter is different especially in the areas where Jews are concentrated. This affects, however, only about a dozen electoral areas at the most–certain quarters of Paris and Maneilles. In these constituencies the candidates, often Jews, openly woo the Jewish electorate, make pledges about their friendship and “admiration” for Israel, attend mass rallies for Soviet and Syrian Jewries and even arrange for pro-Israeli films followed by electoral speeches. (Part two: tomorrow)