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Furl the flag
As if his marital challenges were not enough cause for concern, "Sarco the
Sayan" has suddenly emerged as the most infamous accolade of French President
Nicolas Sarkozy. The influential French daily Le Figaro last week revealed that
the French leader once worked for -- and perhaps still does, it hinted --
Israeli intelligence as a sayan (Hebrew for helper), one of the thousands of
Jewish citizens of countries other than Israel who cooperate with the katsas
A letter dispatched to French police officials late last winter -- long
before the presidential election but somehow kept secret -- revealed that
was recruited as an Israeli spy. The French police is currently investigating
documents concerning Sarkozy's alleged espionage activities on behalf of
Mossad, which Le Figaro claims dated as far back as 1983. According to the
the message, in 1978, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin ordered the
infiltration of the French ruling Gaullist Party, Union pour un Mouvement
Populaire. Originally targeted were Patrick Balkany, Patrick Devedjian and
Lellouche. In 1983, they recruited the "young and promising" Sarkozy, the
Ex-Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky describes how sayanim function in By Way Of
Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer. They are usually
reached through relatives in Israel. An Israeli with a relative in France, for
instance, might be asked to draft a letter saying the person bearing the letter
represents an organisation whose main goal is to help save Jewish people in the
Diaspora. Could the French relative help in any way? They perform many
different roles. A car sayan, for example, running a rental car agency, could
the Mossad rent a car without having to complete the usual documentation. An
apartment sayan would find accommodation without raising suspicions, a bank
could fund someone in the middle of the night if needs be, a doctor sayan
would treat a bullet wound without reporting it to the police.
And, a political sayan ? It's rather obvious what this could mean. The
sayanim are a pool of people at the ready who will keep quiet about their
out of loyalty to "the cause", a non-risk recruitment system that draws from
millions of Jewish people outside Israel.
Such talk sends chills down spines, especially Arab and Muslim ones. Indeed,
the revelation did not go unnoticed in Arab capitals or come as much of a
surprise. Paris can be a sunny place for shady people. When it comes to
intelligence gathering on behalf of Israel, a question mark is immediately
raised on the
moral calibre of the person in question. But, how does this scandal influence
France's foreign and domestic politics?
It is of symbolic significance that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was on
a state visit to France in the immediate aftermath of Le Figaro 's exposé --
ostensibly to discuss Iran's nuclear agenda and the Palestinian question.
Proud and prickly France under its supposedly savvy new president hopes to play
more prominent role in the perplexing world of Middle Eastern politics. On
Monday, Sarkozy flew to Morocco, the ancestral home of many of France's Jewry,
soon after his Mossad connection was made public. There is no clear evidence
that the revelation is to make France any more unpopular in the Arab world than
it already is, especially not in official circles.
On the domestic front, however, there are many conflicting considerations.
The Jews of France now display a touch of the vapours, in sharp contrast to the
conceited triumphalism with which they greeted his election: "we are persuaded
that the new president will continue eradicating anti-Israeli resistance,"
Sammy Ghozlan, president of the Jewish Community of Paris pontificated soon
after Sarkozy's election. France is home to 500,000 Jews, mostly Sephardic Jews
originally from North Africa and Mediterranean countries.
Sarkozy's own [Jewish] maternal grandfather Aron Mallah, hailed from
Salonika, Greece, and is said to have exercised considerable influence on his
grandson. Even though raised as a Roman Catholic, "Sarkozy played a critical
moving the French government to do what is necessary to address the ill winds
that threaten the largest Jewish community in Western Europe," noted David
Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. Sarkozy, after
all, was a political product of the predominantly Jewish elite neighbourhood of
Neuilly-sur-Seine, where he long served as mayor.
France's Muslim minority was far from surprised by Le Figaro 's revelations,
even though some may have feigned disappointment. Others have been more
forthright. "France is not run by Frenchmen, but by lackeys of the Zionist
International who control the economy," lamented Radio Islam, of militant
tendencies. When Sarkozy was France's minister of interior and clamped down
on Muslim immigrants, calling mainly Muslim rioters "scum" in a
widely-publicised interview, they retaliated by calling him "Sarkozy, sale juif
Obviously there is no love lost between the five million-strong French Muslim
community, the largest in Western Europe, and the French president. He has
grounds for concern. He assiduously courts the Israelis. That much is known.
In the scientific annals of French politics there is a cautionary tale of
pantomime. French presidents are not always what they seem. There are, however,
two key observations concerning Sarkozy. One, is Sarkozy's intention of
implementing a "new social contract" between employers and employees, capital
labour. This smacks of Thatcherism. His determination to force a "cultural
revolution" in the collective national psyche is a trifle farcical. And
to boot. He recently introduced legislation -- in tandem with his pension
cuts, calling for genetic profiling of immigrants to ensure any relatives
intending to immigrate are linked genetically. The strategy appears to be to
the blow of the social security cuts by appealing to xenophobic racism.
The state of race relations in France is an even more muddled picture than
the devastating caricatures by French-African comedian Dieudonne suggest. He is
notorious for playing the part of a Hassidic Jew who mimics the Nazi salute.
Few politicians blame their troubles on cynical comedians, though, and Sarkozy
is no exception. His fans point accusing fingers at the "irresponsible press".
The real magic starts when you power Sarkozy with his ex-model wife. She,
after all, played a part in the freeing of the Bulgarian nurses and a
medical doctor. She, too, is of Spanish-Jewish ancestry. But, that may be
nothing but an insignificant aside. France, generally, regarded their bust-up
something of a bad joke. Unlike the Americans, the French do not take the
private lives of their presidents terribly seriously. There was the late
Mitterrand, for example. Hardly anyone in all France raised an eyebrow when it
transpired that he had an illegitimate daughter. The French are more
concerned with the ideological orientation and political affiliation of their
president and are not in the least interested in their private affairs -- at
in any political sense.
The interesting twist, however, is that the contest between Cecilia and
Nicolas Sarkozy is a comic cross between a lover's tiff and the battle of the
sexes. It appears befuddled French voters are being forced to turn a blind eye
their leaders' antics. Sarkozy's divorce follows hard on the heels of the
separation of France's first female presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, the
"gazelle" of French politics, from her lifelong lover François Hollande barely
month after she lost the presidential race in May. Moreover, at the tender age
of 19, Royal sued her father for his refusal to divorce her mother and pay
alimony and child support. That was way back in 1972; barely a decade later she
won the case against her father. Ironically, Royal's own mentor the late French
socialist president Mitterrand was notorious for his extra-marital affairs,
the most conspicuous being his love affair with Anne Pingeot and subsequent
disclosure towards the end of his life that he fathered an illegitimate
Mazarine with her.
And, what of the voters? The latest hazard facing the French president has
been his socio-economic policies. Sarkozy's showdown with the trade unions
threatens to turn into a deciding moment for France. Foreign policy, too, has
under much scrutiny. France has become fanatically Atlanticist under the
presidency of Sarkozy. Although, unlike US President George W Bush, Sarkozy
not make much noise about his own dubious religious convictions. The commonest
criticism of Sarkozy is that he is overly conscious of his religious heritage,
a trait that is not appreciated by the fanatically secular French political
establishment. France is culturally the most irreligious country in Europe,
itself the most secular and anti-religious of the world's continents.
For a politician acclaimed for his acumen, it is startling that Sarkozy has
been tripped up by events he should have seen coming. His sagacity obviously
failed him this week. Le Figaro let the cat out of the bag. And his wife, too,
after shopping with Lyudmila Putin, the Russian first lady, apparently decided
that she had had enough of being treated as "part of the furniture" and made
their rift very public.
France is now in the awkward position of having no first lady. The 49 year-
old former model, lawyer and political advisor is by no means media shy. "I
gave Nicolas 20 years of my life," she told the popular French magazine Elle in
special feature which she asked for personally, despite the awkwardness of
its timing. She had long complained of being politically peripheralised.
Troubling as that interpretation is, it is in a way a consoling one for
is now free to handle his opponents without his maverick Cecilia breathing down
his neck or, on the contrary, disappearing at crucial moments.
Even with his personal life in tatters, Sarkozy is obliged to hoist the
French tricoleur high in the international arena. Which flag is it to be?
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