Despite Sarkozy's good intentions, not much has changed

French Jews say anti-Semitism is still rife in France.

french flag graphic 88 (photo credit:)
french flag graphic 88
(photo credit: )
Anti-Semitism contributed to Mimi Marks's decision to leave France 10 years ago, so it was with mixed feelings that she observed the pomp and ceremony surrounding the Israeli visit of French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife this week. "I left France nearly 10 years ago, and every time I go back [anti-Semitism] gets worse and worse... it did affect my decision to come [to Israel]... We feel the situation [there] is out of control." Still, Sarkozy's visit struck a chord with many French immigrants like Marks. She is one of 21,000 Jews who have made aliya from France in the last 10 years, according to The Jewish Agency. In light of France's sometimes fragile relationship with its own Jewry, Sarkozy's support is especially significant. "Jewish people like Sarkozy in France and also here," said Raphael Aouate, who made aliya from France three years ago. "He said good things about Jews and Israel. It's quite new, because [Jacques] Chirac was not at all like that. He was aggressive with Israel." Sarkozy's agenda for his three-day trip contrasts significantly from that of his predecessor, whose presidential visit in 1996 was criticized in some quarters for directing its focus on the Arab population. Many French Jews celebrate Sarkozy as a notable improvement for Israel and for the Jewish people, and are encouraged by his presence in the country. "We all voted for [Sarkozy] because we thought he was able to bring a change to anti-Semitism and crime," Marks said. "He has a strong opinion against it." But despite the public support of Sarkozy, many French olim believe it naive to claim that the situation for French Jews has improved since his election. In fact, just hours before Sarkozy's plane touched down at Ben-Gurion International Airport, a Jewish Parisian teenager was left comatose after what was deemed an anti-Semitic assault. "I'm almost sure it would be an error to think things have changed," said Aouate, "You can't say that one man, even if he is the president of a nation, can change mentalities." The visit to Israel by Sarkozy, a self-proclaimed friend of Israel, reflects the increasingly positive relationship between Israel and France, something many French Jews are happy about. "Obviously it's good for France to have a good relationship with Israel," said Marks.