Sarkozy's Election: A 'Great Thing for Israel-France Relations'

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) had warm words of praise for French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy, calling him "a friend of Israel."

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz ,

Nicolas Sarkozy and Binyamin Netanyahu
Nicolas Sarkozy and Binyamin Netanyahu

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) had warm words of praise for French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy, calling him "a friend of Israel."

In a radio interview on Monday, former Prime Minister Netanyahu said of Sarkozy, "I think he is the first president of France in many years, perhaps since de Gaulle, who does not have this anti-American and anti-Israel attitude, or some type of grumbling toward both countries. I think Sarkozy is free of this."

The new French President, Netanyahu said, "is a friend of Israel and a personal friend for many years already. We have met together many times. We speak on the phone often." He said that Sarkozy "understands our serious security problems very well. And he wants to help us in achieving true peace, not fictitious peace."

MK Netanyahu joked, "From time to time, he speaks to me in his broken English and I stutter in my broken French. In the end, we understand each other."

Switching to a political analyst's hat, Netanyahu suggested that Sarkozy "was not elected because of his stances regarding the United States or regarding Israel. He was elected because the French citizens understood that if they do not make a quick reform in the French economy... they will not be able to raise the standard of living and the standard of welfare. They will not be able to really help the weaker classes, and they will not be able to advance the middle class. ...And they gave him the mandate to make very difficult decisions, not easy, popular decisions."

In terms of his economic world-view, and the criticism he receives for it, Netanyahu reported that Sarkozy told him, "People say that I am like you."

"I want to wish him success. I think it is a blessing for France and a great thing for Israeli-French relations," MK Netanyahu concluded.

Nicolas Sarkozy's election was also warmly greeted by Jewish organizations in France and the United States.

Roger Cukierman, President of CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communal organizations, issued a statement offering the President-elect his "warmest and most respectful congratulations.

"Your position statements during the electoral campaign carry much hope for a France that needs to be reconciled with itself. I was touched by what you said and I understand that you intend to be a standard bearer of the French values we so cherish, those of a Republic that allows each of its citizens to find his and her place in a framework of values that respect every individual and leave no room for intolerance, racism and anti-Semitism."

In the United States, the American Jewish Committee issued a statement of congratulations, as well. "We have long admired Nicolas Sarkozy as a political leader deeply committed to France’s democratic values, his readiness to confront threats to those principles, and his dedication to strengthening trans-Atlantic relations," said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris. "AJC looks forward to working closely with President Sarkozy and his administration on critical issues of common concern."

In particular, the AJC statement recognized Sarkozy's "critical role in moving the French government to finally recognize the gravity of the problem" of a rise in violent anti-Semitism in France. "I consider any insult against Jews an insult against France," declared Sarkozy in an address to AJC in Washington in April 2004, reaffirming what he had told an AJC leadership delegation in Paris six months earlier. According to the AJC, Sarkozy was instrumental in stepping up police protection around Jewish buildings and schools, and in arresting and prosecuting individuals who committed anti-Semitic acts.