France elects Jew as president
- KEEPING KOSHER
France elects Jew as president
Sarkozy's Jewish roots
By RAANAN ELIAZ
European Jewish Press Tuesday, 8 May 2007
NICOLAS SARKOZY: France's new president beats out shabbos-goy.
PARIS In an interview Nicolas Sarkozy gave in 2004, he expressed
an extraordinary understanding of the plight of the Jewish people for
a home: "Should I remind you the visceral attachment of every Jew
to Israel, as a second mother homeland? There is nothing outrageous
about it. Every Jew carries within him a fear passed down through
generations, and he knows that if one day he will not feel safe in his
country, there will always be a place that would welcome him. And
this is Israel."
Sarkozy's sympathy and understanding is most probably a product
of his upbringing it is well known that Sarkozy's mother was born to
the Mallah family, one of the oldest Jewish families of Salonika, Greece.
Additionally, many may be surprised to learn that his yet-to-be-revealed
family history involves a true and fascinating story of leadership, heroism
It remains to be seen whether his personal history will affect his foreign
policy and France's role in the Middle East conflict.
In the 15th century, the Mallah family (in Hebrew: messenger or angel)
escaped the Spanish Inquisition to Provence, France, and moved about
one hundred years later to Salonika.
Comes from long line of Jewish and Zionist leaders
In Greece, several family members became prominent Zionist leaders,
active in the local and national political, economic, social and cultural
To this day many Mallahs are still active Zionists around the world.
Sarkozy's grandfather, Aron Mallah, nicknamed Benkio, was born in 1890.
Beniko's uncle Moshe was a well-known Rabbi and a devoted Zionist who,
in 1898 published and edited El Avenir, the leading paper of the Zionist
national movement in Greece at the time.
His cousin, Asher, was a senator in the Greek senate and in 1912 he
helped guarantee the establishment of the Technion the elite
technological university in Haifa, Israel.
In 1919 he was elected as the first President of the Zionist Federation
of Greece and he headed the Zionist Council for several years. In the
1930s he helped Jews flee to Israel, to which he himself immigrated
Another of Beniko's cousins, Peppo Mallah, was a philanthropist for Jewish
causes who served in the Greek parliament, and in 1920 he was offered,
but declined, the position of Greece's minister of finance. After the
establishment of the State of Israel he became the country's first
diplomatic envoy to Greece.
Grandfather converted to Catholicism
In 1917 a great fire destroyed parts of Salonika and damaged the family
Many Jewish-owned properties, including the Mallah's, were expropriated
by the Greek government. Jewish population emigrated from Greece and
much of the Mallah family left Salonika to France, America and Israel.
Sarkozy's grandfather, Beniko, immigrated to France with his mother.
When in France Beniko converted to Catholicism and changed his name
to Benedict in order to marry a French Christian girl named Adèle Bouvier.
Adèle and Benedict had two daughters, Susanne and Andrée. Although
Benedict integrated fully into French society, he remained close to his
Jewish family, origin and culture.
Knowing he was still considered Jewish by blood, during World War II he
and his family hid in Marcillac la Croisille in the Corrèze region, western
During the Holocaust, many of the Mallahs who stayed in Salonika
or moved to France were deported to concentration and extermination
In total, 57 family members were [allegedly: ed.] murdered by the Nazis.
Testimonies reveal that several revolted against the Nazis and one, Buena
Mallah, was the subject of Nazis medical experiments in the Birkenau
Family collaborated with wartime terrorists
In 1950 Benedict's daughter, Andrée Mallah, married Pal Nagy Bosca y
Sarkozy, a descendent of a Hungarian aristocratic family. The couple had
three sons Guillaume, Nicolas and François.
The marriage failed and they divorced in 1960, so Andrée raised her three
boys close to their grandfather, Benedict.
Nicolas was especially close to Benedict, who was like a father to him.
In his biography Sarkozy tells how he admired his grandfather, and through
hours spent of listening to his stories of the Nazi occupation, the "Maquis"
[criminal terrorists in France during WWII: ed.], De Gaulle and the D-day,
Benedict bequeathed to Nicolas his political convictions.
Sarkozy's family lived in Paris until Benedict's death in 1972, at which point
they moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine to be closer to the boys' father, Pal
(who changed his name to Paul) Sarkozy. Various memoirs accounted Paul
as a father who did not spend much time with the kids or help the family
Nicolas had to sell flowers and ice cream in order to pay for his studies.
However, his fascination with politics led him to become the city's youngest
mayor and to rise to the top of French and world politics. The rest is history.
It may be a far leap to consider that Sarkozy's Jewish ancestry may have
any bearing on his policies vis-à-vis Israel.
Close friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu
However, many expect Sarkozy's presidency to bring a dramatic change
not only in France's domestic affairs, but also in the country's foreign policy
in the Middle East.
One cannot overestimate the magnitude of the election of the first French
President born after World War II, whose politics seem to represent a new
dynamic after decades of old-guard Chirac and Mitterrand.
There is even a reason to believe that Sarkozy, often mocked as "the
American friend" and blamed for "ultra-liberal" worldviews, will lean towards
a more Atlanticist policy.
Although Sarkozy's family roots will not bring France closer to Israel, the
presidents' personal Israeli friends may. As a Minister of Interior, Sarkozy
shared much common policy ground with former Israeli Prime Minister,
The two started to develop a close friendship not long ago and it is easy to
observe similarities not only in their ideology and politics, but also in their
public image. If Netanyahu returns to Israel's chief position it will be interesting
to see whether their personal dynamic will lead to a fresh start for Israel and
France, and a more constructive European role in the region.
Raanan Eliaz is a former Director at the Israeli National Security Council
and the Hudson Institute, Washington D.C. He is currently a PhD candidate
at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and a consultant on