French President Nicolas Sarkozy, honored on successive nights this week here by prominent Jewish organizations, spoke forcefully of his support for Israel and commitment to rid his country of anti-Semitism. And though sometimes described as haughty, he sounded nothing like that on Monday night when he said he was unworthy of receiving the Elie Wiesel Foundation Humanitarian Award and spoke of his self-doubts in making difficult national decisions.
Sarkozy, 53, was accompanied by his wife of eight months, the former model Carla Bruni, at a lavish dinner for about 900 at Cipriani 42nd Street Monday night, hosted by Elie and Marion Wiesel, with NBC anchor Brian Williams and actor Michael Douglas splitting the master of ceremonies chores.
On Tuesday night, the Sarkozys were hosted by Rabbi Arthur Schneier at his Appeal of Conscience Foundation dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria.
There, according to a prepared speech released prior to the event, Sarkozy pledged to “continue an unwavering fight against racism and anti-Semitism in all their forms.” He said the number of anti-Semitic acts “has fallen by two-thirds in the past two years” — he was elected in May 2007 — “but I am not satisfied with that progress. Much still remains to be done.”
Holocaust education is part of the curriculum throughout France, and Sarkozy spoke of the need for continued instruction and for promoting interfaith dialogue throughout the world.
He emphasized the need to defeat terrorism, and said “our fight in Afghanistan is one that we cannot lose, which is why I decided to strengthen France’s civilian and military commitment.” He made no mention of the war in Iraq, which is highly unpopular in France.
At the Wiesel Foundation dinner, Sarkozy spoke of his love for the U.S. and of his country’s deep appreciation for America’s role in World War II, before turning reflective.
“I don’t deserve this award,” he told Wiesel, whose introductory remarks praised the French leader for personally calling for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on meeting Syrian president Bashar Assad.
“So much needs to be done, and the world is not doing well,” Sarkozy said in a somber tone. “To be a [political] winner you must be full of certainty, but to be a good president you must be full of doubts.
“I am headstrong,” he added, “but I often wonder, did I do right?”
He spoke of his willingness to make compromises to achieve the release of hostages and to make the case for Shalit, and of his willingness to go to Moscow after Russia’s invasion of Georgia recently.
“Who can make peace without speaking to those who make war?” he asked. “Where do you draw the line?”
He noted that he and other world leaders are “judged on results, not intentions.”
In closing, Sarkozy asserted that “Iran must never lay hands on the [nuclear] bomb, and we must do whatever it takes.” He said he was “100 percent committed” to Israel’s security, adding that the Jewish state “must create a democratic Palestinian state or there will be no security for Israel.”