Furl the flag (a reflection on Sarkozy's bad week)
By Gamal Nkrumah
Online Journal Guest Writer
Oct 29, 2007, 00:52
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 (Mossad case-officers).
A letter dispatched to French police officials late last
winter -- long before the presidential election but somehow kept secret --
revealed that Sarkozy was recruited as an Israeli spy. The French police are
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 author of 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
Pierre Lellouche. In 1983, they recruited the "young and promising" Sarkozy,
the "fourth man."
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 help the Mossad rent a car without having to
complete the usual documentation. An apartment sayan would find
accommodation without raising suspicions, a bank sayan 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 actions out of
loyalty to "the cause," a non-risk recruitment system that draws from
the 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 expos� -- ostensibly to discuss Iran's nuclear agenda and the
Palestinian question. Proud and prickly France under its supposedly savvy new
president hopes to play a 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
Sarkozy's own 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 role in 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 Islamist tendencies. When Sarkozy was France's
minister of interior and clamped down hard on Muslim immigrants, calling mainly
Muslim rioters "scum" in a widely publicised interview, they
retaliated by calling him "Sarkozy, sale juif [dirty Jew]."
Obviously there is no love lost between the 5 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 and labour. This smacks of Thatcherism. His
determination to force a "cultural revolution" in the collective
national psyche is a trifle farcical. And unprincipled 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 soften 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 Palestinian medical doctor. She, too, is of Spanish-Jewish
ancestry. But, that may be nothing but an insignificant aside. France,
generally, regarded their bust-up as 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 Fran�ois 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 least not in any political
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 to their leaders' antics. Sarkozy's divorce follows hard on
the heels of the separation of France's first female presidential candidate
S�gol�ne Royal, the "gazelle" of French politics, from her lifelong
lover Fran�ois Hollande barely a 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 daughter, 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 come under much scrutiny. France has become fanatically Atlanticist
under the presidency of Sarkozy. Although, unlike US President George W. Bush,
Sarkozy does 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
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 a 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 Sarkozy. He 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?
Gamal Nkrumah, the son of Ghana's first
president, Kwame Nkrumah, is foreign editor of the
English-language newspaper, Al-Ahram
Weekly. He lives in Cairo, Egypt.
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