The two faces of France

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The recent accusation by French Ambassador Gerard Araud about an anti-French neurosis in Israel constitutes only a minute item on Israel’s long charge sheet against the damaging, discriminatory and often terrorist-supporting attitude of the country he represents.

The issue is thus not whether or not Israel should have declared the ambassador persona non grata, but rather exposing French policy, government and the society behind it in as great detail as possible.

In the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel’s existence was threatened, France’s president Charles de Gaulle took a pro-Arab direction and instituted a weapons embargo on the Middle East. In his press conference on November 27 of that year he included a much publicized anti-Semitic statement, calling the Jews “an elitist and domineering people.”

This is often considered the beginning of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism in the democratic mainstream of Europe.

Freddy Eitan, a former Israeli ambassador and journalist, in a forthcoming book on France’s Middle East policy, mentions that, despite the embargo, France supplied Mirage planes Israel had already bought to Libya; they were afterwards transferred to Egypt and used in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Eitan points out that French foreign minister Jean Sauvagnargues was the first Western official who met Yasser Arafat in Beirut, in 1974. A year later the PLO opened its first European diplomatic office in Paris, with a charter calling for the elimination of Israel.

Democracies that assault Israel will usually also undertake acts that damage the entire Western world.

In 1977 French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing gave asylum, and therefore international respectability, to Ayatollah Khomeini. The French thus helped pave the way for the first fundamentalist Muslim state, which then exported terrorism internationally.

France was also the main promoter of the 1980 Venice Declaration in which the PLO was recognized by the European Union.

At the United Nations, France has been particularly active in building Europe’s anti-Israel voting record.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, describes the French attitude thus:

“The European collective is frequently neutral on issues at the UN. Then often in meetings of the EU diplomats the French ambassador tries to break the consensus and move the entire group in an anti-Israeli direction.

“France plays a particularly negative role in the formation of an anti-Israeli European position at the UN.”

Gold refers also to the July 2004 resolution of the UN General Assembly supporting the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the separation fence Israel is building.

“The European countries had expressed their view that the ICJ’s jurisdiction was questionable. Once the ICJ ruled against Israel they should thus have abstained or voted against a resolution calling on Israel to adhere to the ICJ’s non-binding advisory opinion.

“Instead, under French leadership, the European Union voted for this resolution.”

Many anti-Semitism experts claim that France’s anti-Israeli stance played a substantial role in the creation of an infrastructure for anti-Semitism in France.

Anti-Jewish violence went unchecked until after the presidential elections in spring 2002. Then France got a culture shock as extreme right-wing candidate Jean Marie Le Pen became Jacques Chirac’s challenger, defeating socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin.

It took Chirac until November 2003, however, when a Jewish school in Gagny was firebombed, to come down strongly against anti-Semitism.

A few months earlier he had told a delegation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center that there was no anti-Semitism in France. On the way to their next meeting some delegates who had their heads covered were insulted by anti-Semitic remarks on the streets.

France’s policy today can best be described as that of a fireman-arsonist. It tries to extinguish domestic anti-Semitic flames, at the same time fueling hatred with attacks on Israel.

In October Nicole Guedj, France’s Jewish deputy minister for victims, stated at the Global Forum on Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem that France intends to lead the European battle against anti-Semitism. When I reacted, mentioning France’s many misdeeds, she did not refute the undeniable facts but replied that Jews should look to the future.

A few weeks later Chirac and France went out of their way to pay homage to Yasser Arafat before and after his death. They thus honored the person who had given international terrorism against civilians probably the largest innovative push in the past decades.

It recalled Chirac’s insulting 1996 visit to Israel, after which he kowtowed to Arafat.

There are no indications that France’s fireman-arsonist approach is going to change. One can also expect increasing efforts by the French government to try to drive a wedge between the French Jewish community and Israel.

Whatever effort France makes to extinguish the flames of domestic anti-Semitism is likely to be undone by new fires kindled against Israel in which it will continue to side with some of the world’s most abject dictatorships.

The role of the French embassy in Tel Aviv in this approach will largely be to throw sand in the eyes of the Israeli public, even if the ambassador occasionally repeats his insulting remarks.

The writer recently co-edited with Shmuel Trigano The New Clothes of European Anti-Semitism (in French). He is now working on a book on the expanding abyss between Europe and Israel. He is a member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

The two faces of France

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Manfred Gerstenfeld

Read all stories by Manfred Gerstenfeld

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