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Nicolas Sarkozy's victory in the French presidential elections is all the more impressive because there had been an impression over the last two weeks that many of the most important forces in French political life had rallied together to prevent his election.
Starting with the bitter attacks from his rival, Segolene Royal, in the last few days of the campaign warning of an outburst of violence if he were elected, continuing with the declaration by Francois Bayrou, the centrist who received 18% of the vote in the first round, that he was not going to vote for Sarkozy, and ending with the call from far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen for his supporters to abstain in the second round, everybody seemed bent on making sure that Sarkozy would be defeated in his quest for the presidency.
Nevertheless, Sarkozy was able to convince the French public that he was the candidate best suited to lead the nation over the next five years.
Without a doubt, a majority of the French were worried about the socioeconomic situation. There was a feeling of economic stagnation, social malaise, and a lack of direction regarding the growing problems created by the immigration from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.
A proud and important country wanted a change and they put their trust in a leader who has proved himself in various ministerial posts, and whose vision of France captivated their imagination.
The great majority of French Jews gave their vote to Sarkozy, although a sizable minority (mostly among the dwindling Ashkenazi community) voted for the Left.
Sarkozy is perceived by most French Jews as more open to their problems, especially in the banlieus, the grim suburbs where many Jews live surrounded by Arab and Muslim communities.
Sarkozy's handling of the unrest a year and a half ago compelled the respect of these French, who were often the victims of anti-Semitic violence on the part of their neighbors during the second intifada.
Sarkozy is also perceived by the Jewish community as being more sympathetic toward Israel and its problems than outgoing President Jacques Chirac, who has been a strong defender of the French Jewish community. Most French Jews expect Sarkozy to adopt a more balanced policy in the Middle East, in line with countries like Great Britain and Germany.
Most Jews in France have a warm feeling toward the US and they believe there will be a change for the better in France's attitude in this respect as well. It is no wonder then that the initial reactions in Israel and among French Jews to Sarkozy's victory were mostly positive.
The writer was ambassador to France from 1995 to 1998 and is world chairman of Keren Hayesod.
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