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Sarkozy, Palestine, and the 2012 Presidential Election

Did the French president lose his bid for reelection this week at the UN?

by
Michel Gurfinkiel

Bio

September 24, 2011 - 12:17 am
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Another rational explanation for Sarkozy’s misfortunes is his lack of gravitas as a president and his propensity to cling to new money, showbiz celebrities, and intellectual fashionistas. In a similar way, he made a lot of bad appointments at the cabinet level, intended for the media rather than for any substantial reason. Many of these appointees behaved, quite naturally, as controversial and rebellious media stars rather than as supportive allies. Finally, it should be added that Sarkozy has always elicited hatred from many corners just for being partly of foreign descent and for having some Jewish roots (all in all, one baptized Jewish grandfather). The hatred factor did not prevent him from winning in 2007 but hurt him more once his administration proved to be ineffective.

Admittedly, a lot of things can happen from fall to spring, and September’s frontrunners may lose their edge in April. Things will be awkward until the very last moment, and every vote will be important.

Will Sarkozy’s pro-Palestinian stand at the UN bring him more votes from the Muslim and third-world immigrant communities, which amount so far to about 10% of the global vote ? Hardly. Eighty-two percent of the French Muslims voted against him in 2007 and it is likely that such proportions will be the rule again in 2012. Whatever he says or does now in Libya or regarding Palestine, they remember he raised the issue of national identity against them, something the Left never did.

Will it bring him more support from the classically pro-Arab Gaullist or Chiraquian conservatives ? No, because they already have switched from dismay to support: they are the ones who determined last summer’s surge.

On the other hand, it will have a disastrous impact on the Jewish and pro-Israel vote. A president who takes a stand at the UN that Israel begged him not to take cannot be deemed to be a pro-Israel president, period. The real question is: how many pro-Israel voters are there?

There is no religion-based or ethnically based census in France (by law). Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that 1%, or a bit less than 1%, of all French citizens identify as Jews. That’s the margin that decided Giscard d’Estaing’s fate in 1981. In addition, polls on religious life and behavior in France show that up to 4% of the whole population identify entirely or in some measure with Judaism and express concern about antisemitism and Israel’s security. Additional polls show that up to 20% of the French tend to support Israel rather than the other side, and that a further 30% have no opinion and are thus not necessarily hostile to Israel.

I am not saying that the absolutely or relatively pro-Israel voters in France are going to vote against Sarkozy just because of his speech at the UN. But as long as they are unhappy with Sarkozy for other reasons, or seduced by his challengers for some other reasons, dissatisfaction about the betrayal of Israel will help them to withdraw their support. The incumbent president won in 2007 by a 6-point margin against his Socialist challenger: 53% versus 47%. One percent of the vote, and all the more so three or for percent, may determine his fate.

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Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.
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