America’s no longer pretending to be an honest broker. The Arab world’s no longer pretending to care about the Palestinians. That leaves France’s Macron holding the whole future of the Middle East peace process in his hands
Professor (Emer.) Shmuel Trigano is the author of numerous books focusing on Jewish philosophy and Jewish political thought: ‘The existence of Israel as a democracy hampers France’s efforts to mobilize the Mediterranean Arab countries as allies.’
Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Shmuel Trigano:
“France embraces a pro-Arab policy for several reasons. History plays a substantial role. In the 19th century France was a protector of Christian and holy sites in Palestine. Also, via its ‘Mediterranean Policy’ France tries to increase its relative weight in the European Union through good relations with the North African countries, where large numbers of French citizens originate. France has a closer relationship with those countries than Germany and other Northern European states.
“A third reason which motivates France’s pro-Arab policy is the fact that several populations that are hostile toward Israel live in the country. These include many Muslims. In addition, a large part of the public harbors left-wing resentment against the former colonial role of France. This expresses itself in pro-Arab positions.“
Shmuel Trigano is a retired Professor of Sociology at Paris University. He has founded various institutes for Jewish learning. He is the author of numerous books focusing on Jewish philosophy and Jewish political thought.
“In view of its Vichy past and remorse regarding the Shoah, France sees itself as a self-appointed moral guardian of Israel. This role is however conditional upon Israel showing restraint in exercising its sovereignty. Under this condition France has imagined a scenario in which it will save Israel in case of danger. This is a French pipedream.
“The existence of Israel as a democracy hampers France’s aims in trying to mobilize the Mediterranean Arab countries as allies. By taking unsympathetic positions toward Israel, France shows its support for Arab countries, and is their de facto spokesperson in the West. This is further accentuated by France’s complete support for the Palestinian cause.
“According to French law, foreign policy is the competence of the country’s president. In practice foreign policy is determined by the Foreign Office, commonly known as the Quai d’Orsay. As a result, there has hardly been any difference in the country’s policy toward Israel during the terms of the last three presidents. Nicolas Sarkozy was perhaps a little bit more friendly in his words than socialist president François Hollande. As far as Sarkozy’s acts were concerned, it didn’t make much difference. France always votes in an unfriendly or hostile way toward Israel in international forums.
“Under Hollande a majority of the parliament claimed – with a standing ovation — recognition of ‘the State of Palestine.’ President Emmanuel Macron will not deviate from his predecessors’ policies toward Israel. Nor can one expect much from him as far as the fight against antisemitism is concerned.”
Trigano remarks: “There is a huge contrast between the morality that France requires from Israel and its own behavior. One can best see this in regard to Iran. France politically supports a country which wants to destroy Israel and exterminate its population. In addition, Iran is a major supplier of weapons to countries with extreme violent intentions.
“France’s international policy is at the same time an internal one. The Palestinian cause is the banner of a large part of their Muslim population who demonstrate in the streets carrying Palestinian flags and Hamas emblems. Such actions are supported by the French public due to the systematically distorted media reports about developments in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“The semi-government press agency, Agence France Presse, is a major producer of distorted news about Israel. The hostility toward Israel is ambient in society, in particular in the media and among intellectuals.
BDS activists present themselves as supporters of victims, which fits their traditional contempt for Jews. The brain behind these actions is the Palestinian Authority. France plays an important part in the PA’s global campaign to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.
“The main forces of the BDS campaign in France originate in part of the Muslim immigrant populations, the extreme left and the remnants of the communist party. These BDS activists present themselves as supporters of victims, which fits their traditional contempt for Jews. The brain behind these actions is the Palestinian Authority. France plays an important part in the PA’s global campaign to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. This is done with the compliance of Western European democracies. The numeric weakness of the Jewish electorate doesnot help the situation.
“France’s political elite has lacked the courage to confront the variety of political and national problems that the immigrant population poses. The Islam practiced by parts of the recent Muslim immigrant community in France is not modern. In addition its adherents are still emotionally attached to their countries of origin.
“The French government is unwilling to confront this reality. Instead It promotes a dialogue of religions. Thus, Christians and Jews are supposed to help the social integration of Muslims. This attitude is radically different from the conditions that Napoleon demanded of Catholics and Jews in order to become equal citizens.
“The now decimated socialist party has played a particularly negative role toward Jews in this century. At the beginning of 2000 major violence against the Jews broke out while the socialist Jospin government was in power. More than 500 antisemitic attacks by immigrants occurred over two years. Yet publicity about the violence was censored. Years later, the then Minister of the Interior said this was done in order not to throw ‘oil on the fire’ meaning, the security of the Jews had to be sacrificed to serve a non-existent ‘social peace.’
“Not surprisingly tens of thousands of Jews have left the country in recent years. One must conclude that there is little light in the future for the Jewish community in France, by far the biggest in Europe.”
How Israel should react to France’s ongoing anti-Israeli arrogance
When the protest of the ‘yellow vests’ began, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Michael Oren, joked that Israel would host an international peace conference for France.
Israel’s decision to approve more than 2000 homes in villages in Judea and Samaria (aka ‘West Bank’) drew the standard condemnations from the European Union (EU) and France. The EU said that Israeli plans undermine the viability of a two-state solution and prospects for a lasting peace. The EU continues to ignore the fact that the Palestinian Authority systematically rewards violence. There is thus no logical relationship between the establishment of a Palestinian state and lasting peace.
The text of the spokesman of the French Foreign Ministry merits more attention. It condemned Israel’s decision to expand settlement housing. It added that such activity does not correspond with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 which forbids settlement building. According to the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the United Nations is, however, an organization which is a frequent anti-Semitic actor. The French spokesman also repeated the pipedream of the EU saying that the settlements endanger the two-state solution, the only solution that would allow for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Israel usually does not respond to such condemnations which it apparently considers a kind of evil European ritual. Such an attitude may have made sense at a time when Israel was more of an outsider in the world. Israel’s political position has however greatly improved in recent times. France, on the other hand is experiencing a particularly low period. Its government cannot control internal sources of violence. This makes the condemnation of Israel an act of extreme arrogance. Those who sit in glasshouses should not throw stones.
Once a week, for the past two months, there have been major demonstrations by the so-called “yellow vests” against France’s economic situation. Some protesters loot and destroy public and private property. One of the nation’s iconic symbols, Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, has been damaged. Demonstrators are calling for the resignation of President Emanuel Macron. His popularity dropped to 23% at the beginning of December. This matches the approval rating of his socialist predecessor François Hollande in late 2013. The latter is considered the least popular French president in modern history.
There is another more important reason not to let the French condemnation pass without a response from Israel. An EU organization, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published a report in December 2018 titled Experiences and Perceptions of anti-Semitism. The FRA claims that this study is the largest study on European anti-Semitism ever undertaken. The survey asked the Jews polled about their experiences and perceptions of hate crime, discrimination and anti-Semitism in twelve member states. These together are home to over 96% of the EU’s estimated Jewish population.
Opinions of French Jews about the Jewish situation in their country were, on many issues, the most negative in Europe. In France, almost all respondents saw anti-Semitism as a “very big” or “fairly big” problem. A somewhat smaller percentage saw racism in France similarly. Almost all French respondents said that anti-Semitism had increased during the past five years.
The survey specifically asked about anti-Semitic graffiti, desecration of Jewish cemeteries, vandalism of Jewish buildings or institutions, expressions of hostility toward Jews as well as in the media and political life, and on the internet (including social media). In France, the majority of respondents rate almost all these manifestations of anti-Semitism as a big problem.
Virtually all French respondents considered the expressions of hostility toward Jews in the street and other public places a big problem. The majority of French respondents — a higher percentage than elsewhere — worried about being confronted with anti-Semitic verbal insults and physical attacks in the coming twelve months. An even higher percentage of those polled were concerned that family members or close friends might become victims of anti-Semitic insults and harassments in the next twelve months. Again this percentage was higher than in any other country surveyed.
In 2018, a manifesto against Muslim anti-Semitism was signed by 250 Jewish and non-Jewish high profile individuals.
France was also the country where the percentage of respondents who said that they never wear or display items which could identify them as Jewish such as a skullcap or a Star of David was highest. Muslims were considered among the country’s three top categories of anti-Semitic perpetrators.
The situation for Jews in France is so severe that in 2018, a manifesto against Muslim anti-Semitism was signed by 250 Jewish and non-Jewish high profile individuals. This document sums up the main elements of violence and incitement against Jews emanating from parts of this immigrant community.
When the protest of the ‘yellow vests’ began, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Michael Oren, joked that Israel would host an international peace conference for France. However, making fun of the French, in their misery, may not be the best reaction to their Foreign Office’s condemnation of Israel’s activities.
Responding to this condemnation may provide a unique occasion to draw international attention to the widespread anti-Semitism in France. With more media attention to French anti-Semitism elsewhere in the West one hopes that the French government will strengthen its fight against it. Additionally, if the French government starts to realize that condemnations of Israel have a boomerang effect, the net gain of a strong Israeli reaction will be even greater.
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