In 1799, just before he failed to conquer Acre, Napoleon Bonaparte penned a momentous letter “to the Jewish nation.” At that point, still confident of military triumph, he perceived himself as the great liberator of history’s most oppressed people – the “Israelites.” They constituted “a unique nation, which, during thousands of years, lust of conquest and tyranny have deprived of its ancestral lands, but not of its name and national existence!”
When Napoleon aspired to establish a renascent state in Palestine, it was unquestionably to be a Jewish state. He had no doubt whose ancestral land this was, with whom it’s associated and who were the only people who ever made it a distinct sovereign unit.
Addressing Jews as the “rightful heirs of Palestine,” Napoleon announced he was fighting to avenge “the almost 2000-year-old ignominy imposed upon you; and, while time and circumstances would seem to be least favorable to a restatement of your claims or even to their expression – and indeed compellingly advocate their complete abandonment – France offers you at this very time, and contrary to all expectations, Israel’s patrimony!”
BUT WHEN the current French head of state speaks of the rightful heirs of Palestine, he means Arabs – descendants of foreign conquistadors or of itinerant latecomer migrants from the entire Mideast – who have only in recent decades discovered the European-minted moniker of Palestine (mispronounced as Filastin). Nicolas Sarkozy wants Arab sovereignty established here posthaste, without any pesky pedantry about Jewish rights, not even about bothersome Jewish self-defense.
Sarkozy fails to mention that the Arab state he fancies on Israel’s eastern flank, will leave Israel’s soft underbelly – its densest population center – exposed and that the Jewish state’s narrow waistline would shrink to nine untenable miles. Minor quibbles like Jewish survival mustn’t interfere with automatic compliance with his grand scheme.
Sarkozy moreover is petulant and demonstratively impatient. His will must be done and done now. He, after all, is a superior purveyor of wisdom who must be dutifully acknowledged as such with no hesitation or deviation.
When obedience isn’t immediate or sufficient, Sarkozy is understandably piqued. That’s why he lashed out at Israel’s prime minister for being too slow on the uptake. “I’m disappointed with him,” Sarkozy reportedly said. “Despite the friendship, sympathy and commitment we have toward Israel, we still can’t accept this foot-dragging. I don’t understand where [Binyamin] Netanyahu is going or what he wants.”
Herein lies the crux. Sarkozy isn’t just making imperious demands; he is issuing his diktats as a friend. Professed friends presume they possess moral authority to put their protégés in their place. Righteous rebuke from friends is meant to sting far more than chiding from unfriendly sorts.
He’s not the only apparent pal to have taken the liberty to lecture to us. So has the most popular Italian of them all – Silvio Berlusconi. In all other matters Berlusconi relishes flaunting his nonconformity. On occasion, Rome’s enfant terrible even broke ranks with the prevailing European bon ton and sided with Israel. This afforded us – unloved and lonely in a hostile world – rare moments of comfort. But these were fleeting. When our bosom buddy desired acceptance by his European peers, the first eccentricity he was willing to forgo was consideration for Israel’s unique travails.
Something of the sort probably motivates Sarkozy. Even the most in-your-face idiosyncratic politicos need to shore up their power bases. Sarkozy is no exception. One way to suck up to his detractors is by expressing exasperation with inexplicable Israeli insubordination. No better way exists to regain admission to the cozy club of popular sanctimony.
WHAT INDISPUTABLY unites all shades of opinion in France – including the liberal do-gooders and Muslim agitators – is excoriation of Israel. Muslims obviously have their agenda. Arrogant censure of Israel, though, enables the ethnic French to downplay jihadist dangers in their midst and delude themselves that socioeconomic palliatives are the prescribed cure-alls.
By joining this composite chorus Sarkozy instantly becomes one of the bunch, rather than a discordant oddity.
In today’s France, this makes heaps of political sense. The country’s second largest city, Marseilles, is one-third Muslim. More mosques have been inaugurated in France since 1970 than churches in the entire 20th century plus the first decade of the 21st. There’s no official tally of Muslims in France. Some speak of 12 percent. But this is likely an ultraconservative estimate. What’s certain is that the Maghrebins – legal or otherwise – don’t espouse the egalitarian ideals introduced by Napoleon to a very illiberal Europe.
What most French know but decline to own up to is that while their burgeoning Muslim communities demand fairness, they don’t appreciate decency nor respect their hosts’ multiculturalism and moderation. They exploit Western freedoms but don’t espouse them. They don’t wish to integrate but to transform Europe in their image.
France’s Muslim multitudes demand their cut of what another culture produced and accommodation by that culture to the point of inhibiting its own norms in deference to those imposed by Islam. They not only perceive that as plausible but as their inherent right. Considering their own societies’ exclusionism, expansionism, volatility, violence and xenophobia, that’s a curious – almost unnatural – expectation. Were the shoe on the other foot, Muslims would hardly exude the spirit of pluralistic liberalism.
THE HOUSE next door to mine was for a while rented by a family of immigrants from France. They said their greatest pleasure here is being able to send their children to school. When the four youngsters attended French public school, they were set upon by Muslim classmates. After transferring to Jewish schools, they were beaten by Muslims waiting outside the schoolyard to attack Jewish pupils. Wearing a skullcap was to invite physical punishment. Here, they can indulge in the luxury without fear for their safety.
That’s why on the streets all around my neighborhood so much French can be heard now. For more and more French Jews, Israel is a haven, as envisioned by classical Zionism. It’s that elementary security which Netanyahu cannot afford to imperil and sacrifice willy-nilly – not even to Sarkozy’s caprice. That is what’s at stake.
What Sarkozy peevishly characterizes as “foot-dragging” is anything but unreasonable. To behave any differently would be the unreasonable thing to do. This isn’t a frivolous European parlor game. Carelessness with the country’s existential interests would be unconscionable and the consequences deadly and irreversible.
Even in inherently different times and circumstances, Napoleon grasped the essence of Jewish self-preservation issues – to say nothing of our rights in our homeland. He urged Jews to seize “the moment, which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of civic rights among the populations of the world which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years – your political existence as a nation among the nations.”
Sarkozy now bids us to subjugate these to his whims.