09 February 2012
Speaking on Wednesday night at a dinner hosted by France’s Jewish umbrella organization CRIF, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated his support for Israel but warned that military action was not the right way to deal with Iran. In the wake of new concerns that Israel might strike Iran’s nuclear facilities early this year, Sarkozy reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security but emphasized: “The solution is never military. The solution is political, the solution is diplomatic, the solution is in sanctions. We want the leaders of this country [Iran] to understand that they have crossed a red line, and to reassure Israeli leaders so that the irreparable is not carried out.”
The French head of state called Israel “a miracle” and “a democracy” that had risen from the ashes of the Holocaust. He declared that if Iranian leaders Ahmadinejad and Khamenei tried to wipe that small country off the map Israel would not stand alone in defending itself but could count on France’s support. Sarkozy also predicted that one day the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would fall and Iran become even more isolated in the world. He also urged Israel and the Palestinians to enter into peace talks with “outstretched hands” and added that Israel could only live in security once its final borders with a “democratic, viable and modern Palestinian state” had been defined.
Prasquier criticizes National Front leader Le Pen
CRIF President Richard Prasquier told the dinner guests that his organization was "proud" to host "men and women whose opinions diverge and some of whom will battle in universal suffrage." Prasquier took aim at France's far-right National Front and its leader Marine Le Pen, noting that she had spent time fraternizing with "racist pan-Germanic brotherhoods" at a ball in Vienna which was held on 27 January, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. "We will not vote for the National Front," Prasquier declared.
On international affairs, Prasquier criticized the support French government had given for the Palestinian bid for membership in Paris-based UNESCO last year. The Jewish leader also said the recorded number of anti-Semitic incidents had fallen by 16 percent to 389 in 2011, compared with 2010. Nonetheless, he pointed out that the figures revealed "a very entrenched anti-Semitic base" in the country.
Nearly 1,000 representatives of the Jewish community as well as France’s top political leaders including Sarkozy, his challenger François Hollande of the Socialist Party, Prime Minister François Fillon, diplomats and leaders of other faith communities attended the prestigious dinner in Paris, which has been held annually since 1985 and receives wide-spread coverage in the French media. It was the first encounter between Sarkozy and Hollande [pictured right with Prasquier] since April 2011, and the two men shook hands. Le Pen and other extreme-right and extreme-left politicians were not invited to the dinner.
Shalit family thanks France
The parents of Gilad Shalit, released last year from captivity in the Gaza Strip, were seated next to Sarkozy. Together with their son they had been received by the French president at the Elysée Palace and were invited as the evening's guests of honor, but were not joined by their son, because, as Noam explained, it was still difficult for Gilad to be in big crowds, and his integration back into normal life was a "slow process."
Noam Shalit received a standing ovation when he and Sarkozy went up to the podium, addressed the guests in French, thanking them all, as well as all "all the other French - the well-known ones and the anonymous ones - who kept Gilad's spirit alive and were with us on this journey." He also thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his courage in going ahead with the deal and bringing Gilad home. "We are very happy to be among you under these circumstances… at a time when we have our son Gilad back with us after years of suffering. Today, the president received us and it was a great honor for us. We always knew you, the French, and you, Mr. President, would never tire until our son returned to us," he said.
In his speech, Sarkozy saluted both the Shalit family and Netanyahu for their courage and stressed that there had never been a doubt about the French standing up for Gilad and demanding his safe return. "I always said that Gilad was a French national. Just like in the case of [former Colombian hostage] Ingrid Betancourt. It is France's job to stand by every one of its citizens. It is our mission to say: that persecuted person, who is being humiliated and tortured, is our child."
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