Israel and France Enjoy a Second Honeymoon as Peres Visits Sarkozy

Simone Veil, head of Holocaust remembrance fund: 'The two presidents' vision is identical.'

PARIS - Judging by the special exhibition which the Quai d'Orsay put on for President Shimon Peres on Thursday, it was France, before its neighbor across the channel, that supported establishing a national home for the Jews in Israel.

Among the dozens of documents - letters, maps, photos and books - from the Archives Directorate was one the French call the "French Balfour Declaration" - a letter written by Quai d'Orsay Secretary General Jules Cambon on June 4, 1917 to the then president of the World Zionist Organization, Nahum Sokolow, supporting the return of the Jews to their homeland.

The exhibition - "The Origins of the State of Israel" - also showed Napoleon Bonaparte's proclamation of 1799, inviting all of Asia and Africa's Jews to unite under the French flag and establish a "new Jerusalem."

One of the Quai d'Orsay's grand halls exhibited photographs of Peres with all the French foreign ministers who served during his political career.

The arms agreement of 1955, signed by Peres, then director-general of the Defense Ministry, and his French counterpart, was also exhibited.

Earlier on Thursday, huge portraits of nine famous French feminists hanging on the Paris Pantheon facade greeted Peres on the last day of his official visit in France.

The portraits were put up for International Women's Day, which took place on Saturday.

Another famous French woman greeted Peres on the steps - Simone Veil, former French cabinet minister, European Parliament president and today president of the French fund for Holocaust remembrance.

A Holocaust survivor, Veil advanced the setting up of a site in memory of righteous gentiles of the world, who saved many French Jews, in the Pantheon.

"Three hundred thousand Jews lived in France during World War II," Weil told Haaretz. "Unlike most of Europe's Jews, most of them were saved (75,000 perished). This must be credited to those righteous gentiles."

Peres, accompanied by French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, laid a wreath at the site as the Republican Guard orchestra played. He stopped at the grave of French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, who was captured by the Nazis and tortured to death.

Veil was the most quoted politician when President Nicholas Sarkozy announced his initiative last month to teach the Holocaust in elementary schools. Weil was dismayed at the idea of having every sixth-grader "adopt" a Jewish child his age who had died in the Holocaust as a way of furthering Holocaust remembrance.

"It is not comprehensible, and it is not right," she told journalists Haaretz. "One must not do this to 10-year-old children. It is impossible to demand that a child that age identify with a dead child. This is too heavy a burden."

The following day, the president's proposal was the talk of the town. He was bombarded with complaints and accusations of harming innocent children.

Weil said she was happy with what she called "the resumed honeymoon" between France and Israel. "The ties have deepened over the last few years, but Peres' visit goes beyond other official visits," she said. "The two presidents' vision - France and Israel - is identical today."

Earlier Thursday, Peres met leaders of MEDEF (in English: "Movement of the French Enterprises"), the largest union of employers in France. He urged them to take advantage of Israel's huge head start in high-tech, medicine, farming and alternative energies. MEDEF president Laurence Parisot said she saw Israel as a high-tech and technological super power.

She said it was exciting to see such a small state with such great achievements in these fields, adding that she would try to bring the economic cooperation between the two states up to the level of their defense cooperation.