By Theodore Samets
The idea that France was set to have a Jewish president before the United States sounded weird, anyway.
Of course, some might argue that the current holder of the office, Nicolas Sarkozy, is himself Jewish; his son even married a nice Jewish girl a few years ago.
But Dominique Strauss-Kahn has turned out to be too good to be true. Strauss-Kahn, as anyone who has ventured out in public in the past three months knows, was the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and front-runner for the French presidency until he allegedly attempted to rape a housekeeper in his New York Sofitel hotel suite.
The Manhattan district attorney’s allegations against DSK were splashed across the cover of every newspaper in New York. His bail was set at $6 million. As New York magazine puts it this week in their fascinating look at DSK’s wife, the billionaire Jewish heiress Anne Sinclair:
[Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair] remained silent as initial reports, almost certainly leaked by the prosecuting attorneys, came out about the victim: She was a widow, a single mother, a devout Muslim and daughter of an imam, an illiterate victim of genital mutilation who’d grown up in a mud hut—she might even wear a head scarf! Soon, Strauss-Kahn was led up to the guillotine during his court appearances; hundreds of maids from measly countries around the world, their ill-fitting dark dresses cinched with frilly white belts, gathered to raise fists and chant: “Shame on you! Shame on you!” New Yorkers agreed that they had never seen a more guilty man than the “Horny Toad,” the “IMF Pig.”
Yet now the case is in doubt, mired by the alleged victim’s admission that she lied about a past rape and after an audio tape of a conversation she had with her boyfriend about how to exploit the situation came to light. Why was the boyfriend’s phone call taped? Because he is in prison, serving time for trying to trade counterfeit clothing for 400 pounds of pot.
Strauss-Kahn’s accuser still claims her allegation against the man who was supposed to be the president of France is true, yet it has become hard even for the prosecutors to believe her, according to a July story in the New York Times.
Whatever the final result, it is improbable that DSK will ever end up as president of France. Yet the newest look at his wife and the couple’s response to the allegations give the best opportunity to ask: How bad is this for the Jews?
From Israel’s standpoint, probably not that bad. Sarkozy has been rather pro-Israel and it’s hard to imagine that DSK would have done more for Israel than the current government, even if the New York story does remind us of just how strongly Strauss-Kahn identifies with his Jewish lineage:
His father dropped the “Kahn” from his name later in life and never bestowed it upon Strauss-Kahn, who took it in his twenties. “In my youth, I was called Strauss, like my father,” he has said. “But starting in the seventies, I changed to Strauss-Kahn. It was a way of demonstrating my attachment to my grandfather and also affirming my Jewish identity, which had been awakened by the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War.”
What about for Sinclair? It seems that her fall from power may be the greatest loss for France’s dwindling, though still sizable, Jewish community. New York reminds us that, as the granddaughter of Picasso’s art dealer, she is “an extraordinarily wealthy art-world heiress and a pillar of European Jewish society.” Furthermore, “she always wanted to prove that, more than 75 years after Léon Blum became France’s first Jewish prime minister, the French would again be willing to elect a Jew.” It now looks unlikely that her husband will be the one to bring that dream to fruition.
When DSK was once asked the obstacles to his presidential campaign were, he replied: “Money, women, and being Jewish.” If the charges are dismissed, as this new report suggests they likely will be at the end of this month, revelations about the extent of Strauss-Kahn’s womanizing will still keep him from becoming president, even in France, where philandering is generally considered cocktail party banter, not the ruin of presidential aspirations.
It’s certainly not good for France’s Jews that Sinclair and Strauss-Kahn’s positions in society have fallen—but is the DSK scandal truly “bad for the Jews?” Other criminals and conspirators—Bernie Madoff springs to mind—were bad for Jews because their actions played into stereotypes that have existed for centuries as anti-Semitic tropes. The same cannot be said for Strauss-Kahn. It’s never good for the Jews when a figure of such importance is alleged to have committed a crime, even when, as in this case, the charges are likely to fizzle. Indeed, the greatest loss may be that DSK was a once-in-a-generation figure for French Jewry, and that a leader such as he may never come again.