Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, a conservative president of France from 1974 to 1981, was not reelected. He ascribed his defeat — by less than 1 % of the vote against François Mitterrand, the socialist challenger — to the Jewish community, which resented his pro-Arab policies. From then on and as long as he entertained the hope to run again, he made sure to appear as a friend of Israel.
Nicolas Sarkozy, another conservative, played openly the Jewish and pro-Israel card in 2007 and was elected. He may have forfeited this on September 21 by delivering a pro-Palestinian speech at the UN General Assembly in Manhattan.
No doubt he thinks that he has taken in fact a balanced approach and reiterated his concern for Israel’s security. The problem is that French Jews and most non-Jewish friends of Israel are likely to think the contrary. And when it comes to politics, it is the voters’ opinions or perceptions that count. Not the president’s inner conviction.
Sarkozy should have been more cautious. His current standing is precarious, to say the least. He was very popular for the first five months of his administration, from June to October 2007, with a job approval rating of over 60%. Then, the magic evaporated. By January 2008, job approval was down to 50%. Three months later, by March 2008, it was under 40%. Throughout 2010 and the first four months of 2011, it sank even lower, to less than 30% and — frightfully — a mere 23 % in April 2011. Some improvement was noticed last summer, and job approval is currently close to 35%.
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