The arrival Wednesday morning of a special El Al flight at Ben Gurion airport with 200 French Jews immigrating to Israel was a beautiful thing. As they disembarked, to the buzz of news crews from around the world, the new arrivals broke out in song and dance as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon welcomed our brothers and sisters home. It was enough to turn the greatest cynic into a sobbing idealist.
The scene was significant not simply because every time a Jew moves to Israel we see the Zionist dream come true. It was significant also because it came just a week and a half after Sharon, in a moment of moral leadership and clarity, told the Jews of France, "If I have to advocate to our brothers in France, I will tell them one thing: Move to Israel, as early as possible."
In the first six months of 2004, the French Interior Ministry recorded 510 anti-Jewish attacks or threats. During the whole of 2003, only 563 such incidents were reported. Yet, in the wake of Sharon's call for French Jews to come to Israel, where they will be able to live proudly, if not safely, as Jews, French President Jacques Chirac went ballistic. If there is anything the French hate, it is moral clarity.
Sharon's remarks coincided nicely with France's success in bringing the entire European Union on board in voting for the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the security fence. That resolution was itself founded on the International Court of Justice's ruling that Israel has no right to build the fence to protect ourselves from Palestinian suicide bombers.
It is no coincidence that France was acting in an overtly hostile manner toward the Jewish state when Sharon made his declaration. In recent years, rarely a day has gone by without some French leader doing something to make common cause with those devoted to the annihilation of the Jewish state.
From the French ambassador to Britain's statement calling Israel a "sh-tty little country," to former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard's declaration that the creation of Israel was "a mistake", to its persistent support of Arafat despite mountains of evidence implicating him as a current and active mastermind of terror, France has made it plain that it is an opponent, not an ally, in the Arab-Muslim war to destroy us. So yes, it was sweet to see 200 Jews telling us that they see their future here and not in France.
The problem with France is not simply that one in five French citizens voted for an avowed Holocaust-denier in the last election. Nor is it just that almost every week we hear another story about a synagogue torched, a rabbi beaten, a Jewish cemetery or Holocaust memorial defaced with swastikas or Jewish children terrorized on the subway or on their way to Hebrew school. Nor is it that France hates Israel. The French hating Israel is nothing that keeps anyone here awake at night.
The problem with France, rather, is that it has appointed itself arbiter of global justice, and in so doing inserted itself as a key factor in the US presidential race.
Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, has made his objections to Bush administration's foreign policy a defining issue of his candidacy. During this week's Democratic national convention in Boston, speaker after speaker took to the podium and declared that under a Kerry presidency, the US would not act "unilaterally." A Washington Post analysis of Kerry's basic message to American voters noted that Kerry's major theme is a "restoration" of US positions during the 1990's under the Clinton administration.
As former Clinton administration official and current Kerry foreign policy adviser Richard Holbrooke put it to the Post, the Bush administration advocated "extremist ideas" that had "never had a voice in the policymaking bodies of the executive branch." One such idea, the Post paraphrased, was "acting unilaterally."
But what does "acting unilaterally" mean? It does not mean "going it alone." After all, there are several dozen other countries actively involved in US operations in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan.
Neither does "acting unilaterally" mean that in Iraq the US is acting outside of a clear UN Security Council mandate. Ahead of the US-led operations in Kosovo in 1999, in which Holbrooke played a key role, Russia used the threat of its Security Council veto to prevent the US from taking action under a UN umbrella. Yet no one has ever accused the US of acting unilaterally in Kosovo.
What "acting unilaterally" actually means to Holbrooke and Kerry is that the multilateral coalition Bush assembled in Iraq does not include France. It was France that prevented a UN Security Council resolution backing the US-led invasion, and it was France that led the EU and NATO to reject US requests to forge coalitions under whose aegis the US would lead the war against Saddam's regime.
With its UN Security Council veto, its membership in NATO and its leading position in the EU, France has fashioned itself the indispensable ally for Eurocentric Americans. This it has done in spite of the fact that France has opposed almost every single US foreign policy initiative since September 11. Yet, in spite of France's overt hostility, administration critics still believe that the US cannot garner a politically palatable coalition for action on the international stage without French involvement.
One of the truly disturbing aspects of France's success in so positioning itself is that the veneer of respectability of a French-approved coalition is so thick that even when such coalitions fail abysmally, no one seems to notice. Thus, according to a recently released report by Human Rights Watch, it was the French forces who were most responsible for NATO-led Kosovo force's decision to remain garrisoned as thousands of Kosovar Christians were evicted from their homes and villages by Albanian Muslims even as they were begged to come forward and protect these minorities. But who's noticing?
It is hard to know precisely what a Kerry presidency would hold in store for Israel specifically.
Yes, it is true that he seems to pay inordinate respect to outspoken Israel-bashers such as former President Jimmy Carter and Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Then again, Bush appointed the harshly anti-Israel Marine General Anthony Zinni to be his Middle East mediator shortly after assuming office.
Yes, it is true that Kerry seems determined to force Israel back to the negotiating table with Arafat and using Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk as his emissaries in spite of the colossal failure of every policy the two men advocated during the Clinton presidency. But Bush has adopted the Road Map, which formally, if not practically, gives the EU, Russia and the UN the status of arbiters in the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
One thing though, is clear enough. In the unrelenting emphasis Kerry places on a certain brand of "multilateralism," he is providing undue, unreasonable and unacceptable legitimacy to a country that does not wish Israel well. Kerry can choose to be a friend of France, or he can choose to be a friend of Israel. But this is one area where he can't have it both ways.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.