One speaker came to underscore the enduring friendship between France and America. The other came to express new hope for an enduring peace between Israel and Palestine.
For both, that also meant talking about Iraq.
For French Ambassador to the United States Jean-David Lafitte, making his first official visit outside Washington to speak at Penn on April 11, Franco-American differences over Iraq were a mere speed bump on a long road.
“ Like any family, we have differences,” he said, and proceeded to enumerate them: The differing impact of Islamist terror on the two countries, France’s emphasis on multilateral approaches to world problems and its conviction that Iraq was disarming without the use of force. “Maybe we have a special talent to make these differences spectacular,” he continued.
He went on to stress both countries’ shared commitment to democracy, freedom and capitalist economics and the ways in which the United States and the United Nations need each other. He also condemned French anti-Americanism and fashionable France-bashing in America.
For former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who spoke in Zellerbach Theatre the following Sunday, Saddam Hussein’s ouster represented an opportunity for a new Middle East to emerge, one in which Israel could help its Arab neighbors stride into the modern world.
Arriving on stage to a standing ovation, he began by saying that a new age of human endeavor can begin in the wake of Hussein’s fall. “Science and technology have replaced land and natural resources [as the basis of economic power],” he said. “Over half of humanity is engaged in one stage or another of science and technology as a means to a better life.”
He returned to this theme in response to a question about Israel’s possible role in promoting Arab economic development. “The tragedy of the Palestinians is that they continue to live off the land,” he said.
Peres expressed some surprise at the European opposition to the war with Iraq. “When it came to Kosovo, Europe was in favor of bombing Kosovo,” which also led to the removal of a dictator, he said.
Originally published on May 1, 2003