PARIS (EJP)--- With the French presidential election only three months away, Tuesday’s annual dinner organised by CRIF, the umbrella group of secular Jewish organizations in France, will be attended by half of the country’s government members.
As guest of honour French Prime minister Dominique de Villepin will deliver his speech to some 800 invitees including France’s top political, social, religious, business, diplomatic and communal leaders at the Pavillon d’Armenonville, a seminar and event hall in Paris chic 16th district.
While the CRIF dinner has traditionally focused on the situation in the Middle East, France-Israel relations and the fight against anti-Semitism, this year’s presidential race will give the Prime minister a good opportunity to position himself on the political scene one week after his Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy was chosen by the governing UMP party as its candidate. His main rival is former Socialist minister Ségolène Royal.
“This dinner is a political must as every year it gives an opportunity for the Jewish community to meet with the country’s resources,” one Jewish official told EJP about the event which will be broadcast live on a public parliamentary television station for the first time on Tuesday night.
Roger Cukierman, the president of CRIF, usually expresses during this event the French Jewish community's concerns. This year, he is likely to insist on the need to fight against anti-Semitism even though the number of violent acts has decreased according to official figures.
He will also stress the Iranian nuclear threat and recall his demand that Israel join the French-speaking world organisation.
He is also due to hail French President Jacques Chirac who last week honoured the French "Righteous among the Nations" who helped and saved Jews during World War II.
De Villepin will be accompanied by several of his ministers. While Sarkozy has announced his participation, Royal will not attend the CRIF dinner because she is said to believe that it is up to the party leader to be there. François Hollande, first secretary of the Socialist party and Royal’s partner, will be present.
Last week, Roger Cukierman, reaffirmed the CRIF's traditional neutrality in the election campaign. He was forced to do so after Ségolène Royal’s spokesman, Julien Dray, who is Jewish, suggested that CRIF was supporting Sarkozy.
After meeting with Royal, Cukierman said : “CRIF is neutral in conformity with its mission”.
Last month Royal was criticized by CRIF and other Jewish leaders for meeting a Hezbollah parliamentarian in Beirut during a Mideast trip and for not condemning him when he compared Israel with the Nazis who occupied France during WWII. Royal later called the remark “unacceptable and odious” and blamed her failure to speak out on a bad translation.
According to political observers, France’s 600,000 Jews appear to be supporting Nicolas Sarkozy who has revealed himself a friend of Israel, with a desire to break with the traditional pro-Arab Gaullist policy, a pro-American and who has been active as Interior minister in the fight against anti-Semitism.
“Many Jews who voted Socialist, even in the intellectual circles, are likely to vote for Sarkozy because they are fearing the Socialist’s foreign policy, especially towards Israel,” Frederic Encel, a professor of international relations in Paris, told EJP.
“Sarkozy represents for the Jews a break with Chirac on foreign policy,” Encel added.
Daily newspaper Libération recently branded Sarkozy as the “natural candidate of the Jewish electorate”.
The 51-year-old politician is the son of an Hungarian immigrant and his mother is of Greek Jewish origin.
Sarkozy is leading over Royal in the latest polls.