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Behind the Headlines the Jews of France Who Advise Mitterrand

January 28, 1982
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Quickly and without much fanfare, the new President of France entered the offices where the civil marriage of one of his most trusted aides was to take place. It is not everyone that has the President of the Republic attend his or her wedding ceremony. But that’s what happens to Jacques Attali, special consultant to President Francois Mitterrand, with offices in the Elysee Palace.

Due to a pressing schedule, the President could not attend the synagogue service, but many high government officials did. This was, of course their tribute to Attali — a strong supporter of Mitterrand, active in the Jewish community, a vice president of the Fonds Social Juif Unifie (similar to the Council of Jewish Federations in the United States), and who at the age of 20 graduated at the head of the class from the Ecole Polytechnique.

It is a truism in France, which was the first European country to grant Jews equality, that Jews have risen to the highest positions in government and industry. Leon Blum, Rene Mayar and Pierre Mendes-France were all Presidents of France, which today has a Jewish population of more than 700,000 and is the fourth largest Jewish community in the world.


Moreover, there are more Jewish Cabinet members in the Mitterrand Administration than in previous governments in recent years; three of the four Jews in the Cabinet have been very active in the Jewish community for many years.

Today, in the new Administration of Mitterrand, there are those who were with him in the old days — when the Socialists were in the political wilderness, so to speak; who advised him on policies, and who are now part of the entourage which already has decreed and set in motion much economic and political change in France.

But in a country which has a long tradition of secular government, it should be remembered that these men were picked not because they were Jewish but because of their ability, and their belief in the Socialist platform.

Indeed, the new French Administration’s policy towards Israel has steered pretty much on the same course as the previous Administrations, although there are nuances. The new government is emotionally closer to Israel. An example of this is that Mitterrand will visit Israel in March, the first French President to visit the Jewish State.


Attali, of course, is only one example of the galaxy of prominent Jewish personalities who dot the political map of France. Among other examples, there is Eric Beregovoy, who led Mitterrand’s transition team and who is now Secretary General of the Elysee, a post comparable to Edwin Meese in the White House. Active in the Jewish community, Beregovoy worked with Mendes-France for many years on social issues.

Another Jew in the Cabinet is Charles Fiterman, a Communist, who is Minister of Transportation and who is one of the five ministers who hold the rank of "Minister of State." Although he is known to speak fluent Yiddish, he has not shown "the slightest interest in Jewish or Israel affairs," according to those knowledgeable about Fiterman.

Not far from the Elysee Palace is the Ministry of Justice, today headed by another active Jewish community person, Robert Badinter, whose name is inseparably linked with the fight to abolish capital punishment.

Pierre Dreyfus, Minister of Industry, has the distinction in France of making Renault, the renowned automobile manufacturer, France’s leading business enterprise after the two oil companies, Elf and Total. Dreyfus, 73, also has been president of French ORT since 1975.

A "man of the theater" is what they call Jack Lang who has led parallel lives in the world of politics and the university. Lang has been described as "a proud Jew," who openly and sometimes energetically asserts his Jewishness.


Looking over the background of these high-level and accomplished men, one cannot but notice their loyalty for many years to Mitterrand and the Socialist Party, as well as their acumen in last year’s hard fought and close French electoral campaign.

It was Badinter who arranged the television debate between President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Mitterrand. And Mitterrand’s press campaign was directed by Jacques Sequela, a Jewish owner of a large ad agency (Roux and Sequela) who volunteered personally and without charge to run the campaign. Attali has been Mitterrand’s economic advisor since 1974, and the "pocket book" and "unemployment" were big issues in the election.

(Tomorrow: Part Two)

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