The leaders of France’s Jewish umbrella groups, the CRIF (Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France) and the Consistoire (representing Jewish congregations) were wrong to intervene openly in the 2022 presidential campaign by calling on Jews to vote en masse for President Emmanuel Macron, as if there really were a decisive Jewish vote that could have influenced the result of the election, which saw Macron emerge victorious.
In 1981, the Renouveau Juif (Jewish Renewal) movement called for then-President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing to be sanctioned for his anti-Israel policy. Such open opposition to the reelection of a president of the Republic was a significant first in the political life of the Jews of France. At the time, the overwhelming majority of community leaders fiercely opposed it. Grand Rabbi René Samuel Sirat stated that his “constant position was not to intervene in any way, any form and any time in the electoral field.”
However, French Jewish institutions do have a duty to forcefully combat some populist ideas, extremist opinions and incitement to hatred, and always remember the dark years of the Vichy regime. There can be no rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators and no forgiveness for Holocaust deniers or those who still trivialize the Holocaust, commit anti-Semitic acts, and disseminate anti-Semitic writings. Moreover, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel remarks are constantly made by France’s extreme left, specific media and intellectuals. There should be no double standard.
The extreme left and right are part of the French political spectrum, and therefore we cannot ignore the strengthening of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s leftist party in the first round or ignore the more than 13 million people—not all of them far-right activists—who voted for Marine Le Pen in the second round. In both cases, intervention in the vote would have been useless. In all circumstances, delegitimizing or boycotting a democratically elected party leader is counterproductive and a double-edged sword.
As far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, Macron and Le Pen espouse a similar policy, while Mélenchon is much more radical and opposed to Israel. All three support the creation of an independent Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, demand Israel’s withdrawal from all of the disputed territories and favor dialogue with the ayatollahs of Iran.
It is difficult to understand why Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid rushed to salute Macron’s victory even before the announcement of the official results, declaring Macron a “sincere friend of the State of Israel.”
Finally, France is more divided than ever, politically fractured into three blocs and torn in all other regards. Macron will find it very difficult to govern and forge national unity. Following the results of the upcoming legislative elections on June 19, 2022, a possible coalition with Mélenchon could lead to a new rapprochement between France and the Arab-Muslim world to Israel’s detriment.
Today, Israel’s bilateral relations with France remain solid and deep, though passion often prevails over reason. From the De Gaulle anathema of 1967 to Macron, the history of these relations has been a long series of disputes, incomprehension, ingratitude, coldness, rupture and reconciliation. Each president marked his mandate with his own style and imprint, but until now, all have adopted a biased and pro-Palestinian policy.
For 55 years, French leaders have been demanding Israel’s withdrawal “from all the territories” while claiming they will guarantee Israel’s security within “secure and recognized borders.” Israel’s response has always been, “No thanks! We can defend ourselves alone.”
Wanting to play an influential role at all costs in our region and elsewhere, France, with its biased policy, has not respected the rules of the game and actual arbitration. Over the past five decades, all French attempts to play such a role have failed, including President François Hollande’s attempt with the Paris conference in 2017, held just five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump and without Israel’s participation.
Has France’s pro-Arab policy during the past half-century, with its shameful votes at UNESCO and criticisms regarding the recent riots in Jerusalem, been beneficial to peace or Israel’s security? Of course not. Worse still, France remains a favorite target of Islamist terrorists.
During his first term, Emmanuel Macron failed to change his country’s incomprehensible policy toward Israel. France’s foreign policy is a reserved domain of the Elysée, the president’s office. All attempts to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians through mediation were a total failure. Will he now succeed in sidelining the Quai d’Orsay Foreign Ministry? Will he realize that this biased and feckless policy means nothing?
Faced with a global economic crisis, Macron, the brilliant economist-banker, will coolly strengthen commercial, technological and scientific relations with Israel, aiming to do good business with “the start-up state par excellence.”
In this context, Israeli relations with France will no longer be as sentimental and emotional as in the 1950s. As with some of Macron’s predecessors, there will be no feeling. Macron will adopt a policy of interests, mercantile with the Arab countries, and particularly, with the Iran of the ayatollahs since he strongly supports a new nuclear agreement.
Israel hopes that Macron will continue to fight against the delegitimization of Israel and especially the BDS movement. We hope that the two countries’ intelligence services will finally agree on sensitive subjects despite a sometimes tumultuous past. We are still hoping for a positive change from France, which was once “our friend and our ally.” Is it delusional to expect France to make positive gestures such as recognizing Jerusalem and defensible borders for the Jewish state?
Israel’s disappointment with France over the past 55 years, however, leads us to expect that Macron’s second term will probably not alter the traditional policy in the Levant of all French presidents of the Fifth Republic.
Ambassador Freddy Eytan, a former Foreign Ministry senior adviser who served in Israel’s embassies in Paris and Brussels, was Israel’s first ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He was also the spokesman of the Israeli delegation in the peace process with the Palestinians. Since 2007, he heads the Israel-Europe Project at the Jerusalem Center, which focuses on analyzing Israeli relations with the countries of Europe and seeks to develop ties and avenues of bilateral cooperation.
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