- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

PARIS In a New Year's address to the nation, President Jacques Chirac of France promised a year of action to be marked by lucidity and confidence.
In the two months since that statement was applauded by Mr. Chirac's conservative backers, international developments have raced forward, some of them leaving the world incredulous and frequently stunned.
Above all, France and the United States, traditional albeit often querulous allies, have reached a chasm that some commentators consider too difficult to bridge in the foreseeable future.
Now at the beginning of March the third month of Mr. Chirac's year of action France finds itself the self-styled leader of the "bloc of peace" regarding Iraq firmly and systematically opposed to U.S. and British war plans, and rebuking Eastern European countries for their vocal support of President Bush and of his policies.
During this brief period, France has also linked its destiny with that of Germany, sealing their 40-year friendship by a joint session of the parliaments of both countries. Paris and Berlin have buried "forever" the ghosts of their past wars and animosity and pledged to act jointly as the champions or world peace.
In more than one way, it was an act of defiance of the United States and its dominant role in world affairs. Often at odds in the past, France and Germany signaled they refuse to take orders from anyone.
France has also established a new relationship with Russia by hosting President Vladimir Putin, and has lectured the leaders of African countries recently assembled in Paris on how to handle their affairs. The tenor of the keynote address to the conference by Mr. Chirac was described by one African official as "patronizing and colonial."
By rejecting in fact condemning Washington's lead in preparing for war against Saddam Hussein, Mr. Chirac has triggered an avalanche of attacks in the U.S. and British press.
The French press and most of the intellectual elite retorted with accusations ranging from the "cowboy attitude" of Mr. Bush to "simplistic policies," arrogance and blatant domination by Washington.
Commentators and editorial writers in Europe wondered whether the atmosphere of "divorce" between Paris and Washington can be healed before inflicting permanent damage on the long-standing but often uneasy alliance between the two countries.
According to most assessments, the political and economic consequences of the continuing crisis could be disastrous. And yet there were few signs indicating the two countries feel serious concern at the unfolding drama.
Opponents of the French president have found a number of obvious problems in his domestic and foreign policies, both firmly in the hands of the conservatives no longer bound by the constraints of "cohabitation" with the socialists.
They point out that the "peace camp" initiated by France and Germany includes such unlikely partners as Syria, and challenged Russia's credentials as a peacemaker because of its relentless war in Chechnya.
Andre Glucksman, a French philosopher, spoke recently of a "moral scandal," adding:
"In the name of 'international law,' Paris and Berlin are choosing curious allies. Witness the recent election, thanks to the abstention of the Europeans, of Libya to the chair of the U.N. Human Rights Commission! Putin, Jiang Zemin of China, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, Bashar [Assad] of Syria; why is the 'peace camp' attracting butchers?"
In the same vein, Jewish intellectuals in France are worried that what they perceive to be the Chirac government's pro-Arab policies have revived the specter of anti-Semitism at home.
"In some circles anti-Semitism has become politically correct," said Roger Cukierman, president of the Council Representing Jewish Institutions of France (CRIF). He complained that the government's reaction "has lacked vigor" in the face of increased demonstrations of hostility to France's 600,00-strong Jewish community.
Mr. Cukierman singled out the attitude at some schools in France where, he said, "it has become difficult to teach about the Holocaust or the history of the Hebrews."
Last summer, newly appointed conservative Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced that "attacks against the Jewish community are tantamount to attacks on France and on the republic." Subsequently, officials claimed that the number of anti-Jewish acts had diminished.
However, to Mr. Cukierman and other members of his organization, there has been a revival of anti-Semitic groups "preaching racial hatred." Moreover, they say, such groups are not only extreme right-wingers but also "leftists opposing globalization, capitalism, the United States and Zionism."
With France's Jewish community the largest in Western Europe appearing increasingly torn between loyalty to France and Israel, Mr. Raffarin promised new measures against what he acknowledged was "an increase of intolerable acts."
He said 1,200 policemen and paramilitary gendarmes had been assigned to areas marked by "racist and anti-Semitic acts," and instructions had been issued to legal authorities "to remain exceptionally vigilant."
A number of French people feel the recent anti-Jewish acts have been caused by the growing presence of Arab children, particularly in urban schools. According to this view, children of immigrants from France's former North African colonies have brought the Arab-Israeli conflict to France.
In the often-acerbic debate on the loyalty of French Jews, a new voice was added by Michele Manceaux, a writer who said that she had recently discovered that she is Jewish. She declared that "the country of the French Jew is not Israel, but France."

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