Washington D.C. – November 7, 2007 – French President Nicolas Sarkozy was honored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) with the global advocacy organization’s prestigious Light Unto the Nations Award.
“Above all, we honor President Sarkozy’s conviction, conscience, and courage – qualities that are in short supply in a world desperately in need of all three,” said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris.
The AJC award pays tribute to outstanding statesmanship.
“President Nicolas Sarkozy is a man of passion,” said David A. Harris. “It is his passion, combined with his conviction, conscience, and courage, that has quickly elevated him to a place of exceptional prominence and respect on the global stage.”
Richard J. Sideman, AJC National President, opening the meeting and award ceremony, saluted President Sarkozy’s “unparalleled vigor and uncommon principle,” and spoke of the common challenges and threats facing the “sister democracies” of the United States of America, France and Israel.
“Antisemitism must be attacked head on,” declared President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Once you try to explain antisemitism, you are rationalizing antisemitism.”
He said antisemitism is a reality that must be acknowledged, not denied. “We cannot fight against what is denied,” he said. “Unless you agree on a diagnosis, you cannot find the remedy.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy described himself as a committed friend of Israel who regards the very creation of the state as one of the “miracles” of the twentieth century.
The French president expressed optimism about advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. When Israelis and Palestinians have “their backs against the wall, the only thing they can do is move forward,” he said.
Pledging the support of his government to help negotiations for a viable two-state solution, President Sarkozy pointed out that “the issue of security is non-negotiable” for Israel, adding that “Israel has its back to the sea and little room to maneuver.”
President Sarkozy also touched on Lebanon and Iran in his remarks. “Lebanon is a symbol of diversity in a part of the world that needs to learn that purity of fundamentalism is a risk,” said the French president.
Referring to the efforts to assimilate successfully France’s own Muslim population, President Sarkozy said, “Muslim countries cannot say diversity is necessary in France, and not on the other side of the Mediterranean.” Such diversity in Lebanon in particular helps explain why “France is committed to Lebanon,” he said.
He reiterated France’s determined opposition to the development by Iran of nuclear weapons technology, while expressing support for nations that seek to develop nuclear energy for solely peaceful purposes. “Iran has the right to civil nuclear power,” he said. President Sarkozy said that he had called for France’s political and economic policies to be harmonized in sending a strong message to Iran that France opposes any nuclear-weapons program there.
AJC and France have enjoyed close and cooperative relations for more than 50 years. The ties to President Nicolas Sarkozy have evolved strongly since he served as Interior Minister and addressed AJC in Washington three years ago.
“He is steadfast in his opposition to anti-Semitism,” said David A. Harris, recalling President Nicolas Sarkozy’s words at a 2004 AJC luncheon in Washington, when he declared: “I consider any insult against Jews an insult against France.”
The Light Unto the Nations Award was given to President Nicolas Sarkozy, the inscription states, “in admiration of your tireless promotion of democratic values, human rights, and peace, and in appreciation for your devoted friendship with the United States, Israel and the Jewish people.”
The award is in the shape of a flame, symbolic of the inextinguishable light of freedom. Previous recipients of the award include U.S. President Bill Clinton and Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.
More than one hundred guests attended the private AJC breakfast with President Nicolas Sarkozy, including senior AJC leaders, representatives of other national Jewish organizations, Members of the U.S. Congress, prominent civic leaders and senior French government officials.
Several members of President Sarkozy’s Cabinet accompanied the president, including Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who addressed an AJC dinner in New York last month; Justice Minister Rachida Dati; Economy Minister Christine Lagarde; Rama Yade, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights; and Bernard Accoyer, president of the National Assembly. Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF, the umbrella French civic Jewish organization, was among the guests.
Valérie Hoffenberg, AJC director in Paris, who helped arrange the event, is a member of the president’s official delegation visiting Washington, D.C., this week.