France Risks Return to Old Europe

By Belen Fernandez

A June 23 article in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera entitled "Berlusconi: ‘Rapporti con Iran? Solo se condivisi con Usa e Israele’" registers the Italian premier’s pledge to tailor his country’s foreign relations to the needs of the US and Israel. The pledge came during a visit to Italy by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who then invited Berlusconi to Israel to address the Knesset and to inaugurate an annual incontro bilaterale between the two nations. In addition to gushing support for the demilitarization of any Palestinian state, Berlusconi gushed his appreciation for the invitation to visit friends in friendly realms whose friendliness showed no signs of abating: “Sarò molto lieto di visitare un amico, in un Paese amico che resterà amico per molti anni.”

Berlusconi’s emphasis on comradeship may have minimized the worries of an Israeli official featured in a June 23 Jerusalem Post article, who “said it was just ‘bad luck’ that [Netanyahu’s] visit was taking place in the midst of a salacious sex scandal swirling around Berlusconi, a scandal that is eating away at his credibility and will detract from [said] visit and any gestures of Italian-Israeli friendship the Italian leader may have wanted to bestow on the prime minister.” Additional gestures were bestowed following Netanyahu’s departure when Rome granted honorary citizenship to Gilad Shalit, raising the issue of whether Iran might start adopting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

The second stop on Netanyahu’s European tour was France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy was not invited to address the Knesset. According to a July 1 article in Corriere della Sera entitled “Sarkozy irrita Netanyahu: ‘Via Lieberman’”, Sarkozy’s suggestion that Netanyahu replace Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with Tzipi Livni was met with protests from Netanyahu that Lieberman was better in private than in public—an argument of questionable utility in the context of public office-holding. Sarkozy apparently countered that Jean-Marie Le Pen was also very nice in private; further proof of the French president’s inferior friendliness was that he had refused to receive Lieberman in person during the latter’s May visit and had assigned the task to lesser officials, behavior which had been duplicated by Angela Merkel. Berlusconi had behaved much better, except when it came to transporting flamenco dancers to his Sardinian villa on government airplanes and attending the birthday parties of teenage girls.

The last time the nations of France and Germany joined forces against US-led groups of friends was in 2003, when they were promptly punished by geographical restructuring in the form of Donald Rumsfeld’s “old Europe.” In light of Sarkozy’s recent comments, it might behoove Lieberman’s office to devote more of its energies to resurrecting the continental divide rather than to simply accusing France of interfering in internal Israeli affairs—accusations which in fact highlight the relative evolution of the new old Europe, as “old” in the original context indicated a reluctance to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. As for parts of Europe that are still not old, Berlusconi has devised new ways to prolong agelessness through his “Magic Italy” tourism campaign, designed to counteract the harm done to Italy’s image abroad by trash on the streets of Napoli and political sex scandals. Israel meanwhile continues to conduct counteractive measures of its own, such as Tel Aviv Beach Day in Central Park.

Other sorts of rehabilitation campaigns are outlined in a June 23 Haaretz story entitled “British teens get a taste of Orthodox Israeli life on reality TV.” The teens in question include a girl who insists on wearing her bikini in inappropriate situations and a boy with body piercings and black eyeliner who are brought to live in an Orthodox village in Israel as part of a BBC reality series called “The World’s Strictest Parents.” The Orthodox mother describes her tolerance of the visitors as a means of “showcas[ing] Jewish values which should be seen by the outside world.” Values are instilled in the teens through such procedures as observing Sabbath laws, meeting a Holocaust survivor, and training for a day on an IDF base.

Evidence of procedural success is that the girl in the bikini, now back in Britain, has started dressing in less extreme ways, and that both teens want to return to Israel this summer—an achievement classified in the article as a “surprising endorsement” of the Jewish state. The reality TV model offers countless opportunities for additional successes in the field of image refurbishment; possibilities include sending rebellious Palestinian teenagers to live with Orthodox Jewish families, sending British teenagers to surprisingly endorse Jewish settler families, and enrolling Berlusconi in a TV show during his friendly visits to Israel, provided the girl in the bikini is not there.

– Belen Fernandez is completing a book entitled Coffee with Hezbollah. She is a regular contributor to She contributed this article to

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