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INTERNATIONAL (may 8, 2007)
Sarkozy's Jewish roots


 
                                                                        Photo: JTA


France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, lost 57 members of his family to the Nazis and comes from a long line of Jewish and Zionist leaders and heroes, writes RAANAN ELIAZ.

IN an interview Nicolas Sarkozy gave in 2004, he expressed an extraordinary understanding of the plight of the Jewish people for a home: “Should I remind you the visceral attachment of every Jew to Israel, as a second mother homeland? There is nothing outrageous about it. Every Jew carries within him a fear passed down through generations, and he knows that if one day he will not feel safe in his country, there will always be a place that would welcome him. And this is Israel.”

Sarkozy’s sympathy and understanding is most probably a product of his upbringing it is well known that Sarkozy’s mother was born to the Mallah family, one of the oldest Jewish families of Salonika, Greece.

Additionally, many may be surprised to learn that his yet-to-be-revealed family history involves a true and fascinating story of leadership, heroism and survival.

It remains to be seen whether his personal history will affect his foreign policy and France’s role in the Middle East conflict.

In the 15th century, the Mallah family (in Hebrew: messenger or angel) escaped the Spanish Inquisition to Provence, France and moved about one hundred years later to Salonika.

In Greece, several family members became prominent Zionist leaders, active in the local and national political, economic, social and cultural life.

To this day many Mallahs are still active Zionists around the world.

Sarkozy’s grandfather, Aron Mallah, nicknamed Benkio, was born in 1890.

Beniko’s uncle Moshe was a well-known Rabbi and a devoted Zionist who, in 1898 published and edited “El Avenir”, the leading paper of the Zionist national movement in Greece at the time.

His cousin, Asher, was a Senator in the Greek Senate and in 1912 he helped guarantee the establishment of the Technion – the elite technological university in Haifa, Israel.

In 1919 he was elected as the first President of the Zionist Federation of Greece and he headed the Zionist Council for several years. In the 1930’s he helped Jews flee to Israel, to which he himself immigrated in 1934.

Another of Beniko’s cousins, Peppo Mallah, was a philanthropist for Jewish causes who served in the Greek Parliament, and in 1920 he was offered, but declined, the position of Greece’s Minister of Finance. After the establishment of the State of Israel he became the country’s first diplomatic envoy to Greece.

In 1917 a great fire destroyed parts of Salonika and damaged the family estate.

Many Jewish-owned properties, including the Mallah’s, were expropriated by the Greek government. Jewish population emigrated from Greece and much of the Mallah family left Salonika to France, America and Israel.

Sarkozy’s grandfather, Beniko, immigrated to France with his mother. When in France Beniko converted to Catholicism and changed his name to Benedict in order to marry a French Christian girl named Adèle Bouvier.

Adèle and Benedict had two daughters, Susanne and Andrée. Although Benedict integrated fully into French society, he remained close to his Jewish family, origin and culture.

Knowing he was still considered Jewish by blood, during World War II he and his family hid in Marcillac la Croisille in the Corrèze region, western France.

During the Holocaust, many of the Mallahs who stayed in Salonika or moved to France were deported to concentration and extermination camps.

In total, fifty-seven family members were murdered by the Nazis. Testimonies reveal that several revolted against the Nazis and one, Buena Mallah, was the subject of Nazis medical experiments in the Birkenau concentration camp.

In 1950 Benedict’s daughter, Andrée Mallah, married Pal Nagy Bosca y Sarkozy, a descendent of a Hungarian aristocratic family. The couple had three sons – Guillaume, Nicolas and François.

The marriage failed and they divorced in 1960, so Andrée raised her three boys close to their grandfather, Benedict.

Nicolas was especially close to Benedict, who was like a father to him. In his biography Sarkozy tells he admired his grandfather, and through hours spent of listening to his stories of the Nazi occupation, the “Maquis” (French resistance), De Gaulle and the D-day, Benedict bequeathed to Nicolas his political convictions.

Sarkozy’s family lived in Paris until Benedict’s death in 1972, at which point they moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine to be closer to the boys’ father, Pal (who changed his name to Paul) Sarkozy. Various memoirs accounted Paul as a father who did not spend much time with the kids or help the family monetarily.

Nicolas had to sell flowers and ice cream in order to pay for his studies. However, his fascination with politics led him to become the city’s youngest mayor and to rise to the top of French and world politics. The rest is history.

It may be a far leap to consider that Sarkozy’s Jewish ancestry may have any bearing on his policies vis-à-vis Israel.

However, many expect Sarkozy’s presidency to bring a dramatic change not only in France’s domestic affairs, but also in the country’s foreign policy in the Middle-East.

One cannot overestimate the magnitude of the election of the first French President born after World War II, whose politics seem to represent a new dynamic after decades of old-guard Chirac and Mitterrand.

There is even a reason to believe that Sarkozy, often mocked as “the American friend” and blamed for ‘ultra-liberal’ worldviews, will lean towards a more Atlanticist policy.

Nevertheless, there are several reasons that any expectations for a drastic change in the country’s Middle East policy, or foreign policy in general, should be downplayed.

First, one must bear in mind that France’s new president will spend the lion’s share of his time dealing with domestic issues such as the country’s stagnated economy, its social cohesiveness and the rising integration-related crime rate. When he finds time to deal with foreign affairs, Sarkozy will have to devote most of his energy to protecting France’s standing in an ever-involved European Union.

In his dealings with the US, Sarkozy will most likely prefer to engage on less explosive agenda-items than the Middle-East.

Second, France’s foreign policy stems from the nation’s interests, rooted in reality and influenced by a range of historic, political, strategic and economic considerations.

Since Sarkozy’s landing at the Elysée on May 16 will not change those, France’s foreign policy ship will not tilt so quickly under a new captain.

Third reason why expectations for a drastic change in France’s position in the Middle-East may be naïve is the significant weight the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs exerts over the country’s policies and agenda.

There, non-elected bureaucrats tend to retain an image of Israel as a destabilizing element in the Middle-East rather then the first line of defence of democracy.

Few civil servants in Quai d’Orsay would consider risking France’s interests or increasing chances for “a clash of civilizations” in order to help troubled Israel or Palestine to reach peace.

It is a fair to predict that France will stay consistent with its support in establishing a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, existing side by side with a peaceful Israel.

How to get there, if at all, will not be set by Sarkozy’s flagship but rather he will follow the leadership of the US and the EU. Not much new policy is expected regarding Iran, on which Sarkozy has already voiced willingness to allow development of civilian nuclear capabilities, alongside tighter sanctions on any developments with military potency.

One significant policy modification that could actually come through under Sarkozy is on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts. The new French president is not as friendly to Lebanon as was his predecessor, furthermore, as the Minister of the Interior, Sarkozy even advocated closer ties between France and Syria.

Especially if the later plays the cards of talking-peace correctly, Sarkozy may increase pressure on Israel to evacuate the Golan Heights in return for a peace deal with Assad.

Despite the above, although Sarkozy’s family roots will not bring France closer to Israel, the presidents’ personal Israeli friends may. As a Minister of Interior, Sarkozy shared much common policy ground with former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two started to develop a close friendship not long ago and it is easy to observe similarities not only in their ideology and politics, but also in their public image. If Netanyahu returns to Israel’s chief position it will be interesting to see whether their personal dynamic will lead to a fresh start for Israel and France, and a more constructive European role in the region.

EJPRESS


Raanan Eliaz is a former Director at the Israeli National Security Council and the Hudson Institute, Washington D.C. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and a consultant on European-Israeli Affairs.

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Sarkozy's Jewish roots (May 8, 2007)
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Comments
#19 - jo (31/05/2007 5:46:01 AM)
his a right wing radical and his disgusting!

i hope theres the people revolt against him!
#18 - Rickie (23/05/2007 5:38:03 AM)
I am so happy for France that you just might
have a real leader that can forge change..Bravo
to all of you and bravo Sarkozy!
#17 - Lefty (15/05/2007 9:08:03 PM)
Certainly encouraging to hear especially given the large Muslim population in France.
#16 - AVA (12/05/2007 1:36:14 AM)
baby you ll love that !!
#15 - Julia (11/05/2007 11:52:41 AM)
In response to #12 Shammas, yes I take your point. I also would have have ''well satisfied'' the Nazis but am now spending 2 years converting because am not accepted by the local Jewish community as Jewish. My comments were about the fact that people are proud to claim those with Jewish roots when it is convenient to them, but in the same breath reject them if they are not halachically Jewish. In any event, let us hope that this the dawn of a new relationship between Israel and France.
#14 - Jenny Batesman (10/05/2007 10:22:04 AM)
There was a large population of Jews in Greece especially in Thessalonika where a close relative residied in Tsimiski-Thessalonika before migrating to Australia in the 50''s. Sarkozy''s roots do not surprise me at all as he is a product of this Greek-Jewish lineage. My relative claims that this poulation were the most cultured and nicest people she had met in her life!
#13 - nasama (10/05/2007 3:55:03 AM)
Sarkozy may have Jewish roots, but he is first and foremost French.
I am pleased that we have seen the end of the chaotic policies of Chirac. The old guard of French politics always insisted that France be treated as a
Super Power, which it is not. This was the legacy of De Gaulle. I hope Sarkozy is more down to earth and he will be able to form a firm alliance with the UK, the USA and Germany. This will force the EU to align itself with US policy.
#12 - Shammas (10/05/2007 2:38:31 AM)
re. no9. please remember he would have well satisfied the nazis and vichy french requirements and would have certainly been deported. surely this fact is sufficient for us to be very proud such a fine man is now President of France? Do we have to be ashamed of this. As a matter of intetrest whilst a Mayor of Neilly he used to visit the Synagogue on Yom Kippur eavch year.
#11 - Yochanan (9/05/2007 10:42:38 PM)
B''H_
Well done.
Did enjoy very much.
Yochanan
#10 - n.fink (9/05/2007 4:14:50 PM)
The following is some facts about Sarkozy:
Sarkozy a Catholic, has caused controversy because of his views on the relationship between religion and state. In 2004, he published a book called La République, les religions, l''espérance (“The Republic, Religions, and Hope”),[27] in which he argued that the young should not be brought up solely on secular or republican values. He also advocated reducing the separation of church and state, arguing for the government subsidy of mosques in order to encourage Islamic integration into French society.[28][29] He flatly opposes financing of religious institutions with funds from outside France.
#9 - Julia (9/05/2007 2:48:00 PM)
This is a very interesting article. However, it is somwhat tiresome that we Jews (including the Jewish News) like to ''claim'' anybody with some Jewish ancestry. This is rather hypocritical given our taboo on intermarriage and encouragement for people to convert to Judaism. While Sarkozy may have ''Jewish roots'' (one Jewish grandfather ''by bloode''), he is not Jewish.
#8 - Ira & Sharon (9/05/2007 2:00:04 PM)
very interesting!
#7 - herb (9/05/2007 10:57:14 AM)
please e-mail me the article about sarkozy''s jewish roots, because when i tried to e-mail it , it wouldn''t work.
many thanks,
herb
#6 - Zev Shanken (9/05/2007 9:57:12 AM)
Is his wife a Jew?
#5 - Ric (9/05/2007 7:38:18 AM)
It''s great to hear that finally france will support Israel.
#4 - mom (9/05/2007 4:57:54 AM)
interesting
#3 - paul ephross (9/05/2007 4:06:52 AM)
This reads like another chapter in the long story of what Jews and the Jewish community have contributed and are contributing to political, intellectual, scientific and other forms of human leadership.
In French politics one should remember Jean-Jaques Servan-Schreiber, Pierre Mendes-France, and in the pre-war era, Le''on Blum, among many others.
Bravo Nikolas Sarkozy!
#2 - maya (9/05/2007 3:36:27 AM)
from JB
#1 - Hami (9/05/2007 2:51:38 AM)
Very interesting...But even if Nicolas Sarkozy seem to have the potential to become another great French leader with Jewish ancestors , like Napoleon , Massena , Leon Blum or Pierre Mendes France - among many others - he will never become another Theodor Herzl ( who had also Hungarian ancestors ) .

So if we can certainly count Nicolas Sarkozy understanding and friendship , it is still be up to Israelis , to state very clearly their position , concerning .. Jerusalem ..the Palestinians the Golan etc ..to get the support of the French people , and this whether they have for leader Barak , Olmer or... Nathaniaou .

Vive la France ! and Shalom - Salam to the Israelis and the Palestinians !



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