French Presidential Election

Israeli-Apartheid: Over-View on the Left

Of course, the war in Ukraine and the economic and environmental situations are the mainstays of the campaigns being conducted by the three principal left-wing candidates, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Fabien Roussel and Yannick Jadot. However, the recent NGO reports describing the existence in Israel and on the West Bank of a system of apartheid has brought about a sea change on the left. This is the last chapter of our examination of the role of Israel-Palestine in the coming election.

Fabien Roussel, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Yannick Jadot
Eric Feferberg, Joël Saget/AFP

The Union Populaire candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, the Jours heureux candidate Fabien Roussel and the ecologist Yannick Jadot, whose motto is “Changeons” (let’s change), all regularly proclaim their support for the Palestinian people and a two-state solution, the traditional French position for decades. All are aware of the political developments in Israel and Palestine and answer questions about them in the media and sometimes in public. They answered Orient XXI’s questions very courteously via their campaign personnel specialising in international affairs. Yannick Jadot was the only candidate on the right or the left (and the fact is worth emphasising) who answered our questions personally in writing, his replies may be read in the box below.

Present or absent, singled out at the CRIF dinner

Despite this shared tradition, there are shades of difference between the candidates in the wake of the reports from B’Tselem and Amnesty International which have been carefully studied by their teams, as was the report from Human Rights Watch, which refers to apartheid in the occupied territories only. One such shade of difference did not escape the notice of the Conseil representatif des institutions juives de France (CRIF, in English: Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France) when they made out the invitation to their annual dinner on 24 February 2022, the first in three years on account of the sanitary crisis. Yannick Jadot was invited and attended with MP Cedric Villani who recently left the presidential party (La Republique en Marche) to join the ecologists. “When you want to exchange ideas, you exchange them with everybody. Yannick Jadot did well to attend. It does not mean he agrees with their way of seeing things or endorses this or that position taken by the CRIF” a member of his entourage explains. Yet in 2017, when Jadot was standing for president before stepping aside in favour of Benoît Hamon, he was blacklisted by the CRIF because his party, Europe Ecologie les Verts had come out in support of BDS. “We are not going to hide what we really believe just to get invited to a high-end dinner party”, Julien Bayou, who has since become leader of the Greens, said at the time, and added: “The boycott is a benevolent, nonviolent tool available to all citizens.”

Fabien Roussel was also invited a spokesperson for the CRIF assured us but was neither present nor represented. “He had something more important to do, a rally in the Nord,” a communist Party official says with a note of humour. This said, it has been several years since the FCP was last invited by the CRIF. One may wonder whether the general tone of Roussel’s campaign explains this year’s invitation, although there has not been any perceptible change in the CP’s position on the Palestine issue.1 Perhaps the fact that Caroline Fourest, the well-known islamophobic, was invited to a public meeting at the party headquarters in tribute to Charb and the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo is enough to explain this change of attitude. Last Autumn, with the nonchalance, which is her trademark, that pro-Israeli friend of the pseudo-leftist Printemps républicain described Fabien Roussel as the “rising star of the Republican left”, “stealing the spotlight from Melenchon”. There are compliments which many CP members would gladly do without…

As for Jean-Luc Melenchon, in the name of a rejection of the infamous “extremes”, he was not invited to the CRIF dinner – as were neither Marine Le Pen nor Eric Zemmour. For several years now, leader of La France Insoumise has been targeted by the Zionist organisation. A fact which leaves him cold. “That is not his subject» a member of his entourage points out.”In his view, the CRIF is infested with a bunch of identarian extremists. I wonder what happened when Francis Kalifat took over from Theo Klein?“2 my informer adds with a pinch of salt.

These questions of who is invited and who is not may seem trivial. Not so, because the left is seeking renewal, and especially the political courage to recognise the State of Palestine which so many left-wing governments have not had. Most recently that of François Hollande, which included EELV ministers and despite a parliamentary ballot on 2 December 2014, approving recognition by 339 votes against 151. This clear-cut ballot was non-binding for the government and was never acted upon. Who can remember that in 2012 the primary debate between François Hollande and Martine Aubry was marked by a sharp clash over the question of support for the State of Palestine. Support for Palestine as against support for Israel – with “reservations”, as they say in the Socialist Party – is a dividing line throughout the weakened French left, currently representing some 25% of the electorate. I am not including Anne Hidalgo in this figure, but the pro-Israeli pasionaria of the Socialist Party is way down in the polls.

Melenchon: “Gaza is a hell”

Melenchon’s Union Populaire sums up France’s traditional position in two lines of its program: “Recognition of a Palestinian State with a right to territorial continuity, on the basis of the two-State solution and the full and complete implementation of the UN resolutions”. “But we cannot spell out all the details in the program, that is a first step” Arnaud Le Gall explains. He is one of Melenchon’s advisors, who co-authored the international section of the project.“Those are the guidelines and the general principles, the flip side of the coin is that certain subjects aren’t sufficiently developed.”

However, despite the “stun ray of anti-Semitism accusations”, Le Gall goes on, the “harassment of the pro-Israel far right” and a “total isolation” within the political class for the last fifteen years, Melenchon has never varied in his criticism of Israel’s policies. “There comes a time when you have to pound on the table and tell the Israeli government that what they are doing is unacceptable, does not comply with any of the resolutions voted by the UN!” Nor has he varied in his support for the people of Gaza. "I will not deny that my sympathies go rather to the martyred population of Gaza, who are subjected to confinement and a hellish existence which cannot fail to revolt anyone», was Melancon’s answer in January 2022 to a Montpellier student’s question him on a TV show. Another young person showing concern for Palestine: a good sign.

In the candidate’s opinion, answering a questionnaire from the Platform of NGOs for Palestine, “complete blockade, contrary to the principles of human rights and condemned several times by the UN, has caused a terrible deterioration of the humanitarian situation of the Gazans, made worse still by the massacres and destruction inflicted at regular intervals by the Israeli army on the pretext of defending Israel, sometimes against children throwing rocks… Several UN reports describe the situation in Gaza as quite literally “untenable”. Nothing can justify France’s acceptance of that revolting situation.”

Many times, in 2009, 2014, 2018, and 2021 Melenchon has dismissed out of hand the accusations of anti-Semitism heaped on him by the champions of Israel. “The real anti-Semites are those who confuse anti-Semitism with the protests against crimes committed by people pretending to defend the cause of Israel. Israel’s worst enemies are those who demonstrate claiming it is normal to massacre a defenceless population when the Israeli government does it. Those people have ruined years of efforts to keep a sense of proportion in analysing that situation They have driven away thousands of friends, filled them with nausea,” Melenchon wrote in his blog in 2009.

“The word refers to an undeniable reality”

An indication that Melenchon pays careful attention to the issue: he was the very first major French politician to make use of the word “apartheid”, writing his reply to the French NGOs’ Plateforme pour la Palestine, on Monday 4 April of this year. “The use of the word apartheid, first in UN reports, then by Israeli NGOs and then by others like Amnesty International, refers to an undeniable reality. The official recognition of the existence of an apartheid regime is a step forward. As a political organisation whose candidate may potentially accede to the highest function of the State, we see the essential question as follows: if France were to take such a step [recognition of the State of Palestine] would it or would it not contribute to the implementation of a peaceful solution based on the UN resolutions? The answer to this question will depend upon the exact context in which we will be operating.”

One of the candidate’s close advisors adds that “he does not at all like to say things which he does not know if he will do them or not if he is elected.” Thus, Melenchon has made another promise, without mincing his words.

And he expresses his solidarity with those who are solidary. Bertrand Heilbronn, chairman of the Association France-Palestine Solidarité (AFPS) was stopped by the police coming out of a meeting with several MPS at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Duly handcuffed in front of the Ministry with the astonished MPS looking on, he was kept in custody for part of the evening. “There we have Macron’s France” Melenchon deplored in a tweet. And the Union Populaire considers that “the general decline of public liberties now includes the defence of the rights of the Palestinians. As members of the opposition, we oppose this sinister drift, in power we will put an end to it.”

The FCP sees a form of apartheid at work

Like Jean-Luc Melenchon, Fabien Roussel firmly denounced, in May 2021, “the accelerated colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, depriving the Palestinians of their right to an independent, viable nation, the racist attacks and hate riots touched off by the Israeli far right on the Esplanade of the Mosques, the intrusion of the Israeli police in the al-Aqsa Mosque and the rioting in several Israeli towns where Arab and Jewish citizens are being lynched.” The MP from the department of Le Nord, who was already tipped to be the Party’s candidate, also denounced “the criminal raids on Gaza” and joined a street protest in Lille, “demanding that France take a clear position for the protection of the Palestinian people and in favour of a fair and durable peace between Palestinians and Israelis”.

Lydia Samarbakhsh, a member of the National Executive Committee of the French Communist Party (NEC) has raised, in coordination with Melenchon’s team, the question of the nature of the State of Israel. "The Amnesty International report is very significant, it is based on facts, on the practices and political objectives of the Israeli government. There is no denying that its objective is to park the Palestinians on scraps of territory where they would be sub-citizens. The pattern is that of the South African bantustans: the Palestinians are condemned to the exclusion, to poverty and humiliation. Discriminatory treatment of the Palestinians is increasing every day; it is an apartheid policy which is at work.

For the FCP and its candidate, “it is out of the question to challenge the existence of the State of Israel, » and we must continue to defend, “the two-State solution. As a matter of principle and political analysis, we remain attached to international law. If the Palestinian people prefer another option, this would open new perspectives. Palestinian youth and its struggle against discrimination and segregation provides new hope in a movement developing within Israeli society,” Lydia Samarbakhsh concludes.

It is true that Fabien Roussel, contrary to other incumbent Communist MPs like André Chassaigne, Elsa Focillon or Jean-Paul Lecoq has never been particularly active on the Israel-Palestine issue. He did not say a word about it in his interview on Radio J on 13 March 2022, monopolised by questions about Ukraine and Jean-Luc Melenchon. However, the unwavering commitment of his party and L’Humanité in favour of the recognition of Palestine and his recent meeting with the Palestinians ambassadress in Paris do mean that Roussel is on the side of the angels, even though he places greater emphasis on other themes which he thinks will be more popular. In any case, for the pugnacious Lydia Samarbakhsh, “I do not know if coming out in favour of a fair peace can win votes or lose them. but our struggle is against Macron and his liberal globalisation and the serious economic, social, political and environmental problems of our time and in favour of an international vision.”

Jadot rejects the word

“Elaborating together an ecological project: that is another condition for peace. The model of colonial predation is also a dead end in ecological terms” one of Jadot’s campaign advisors on international issues explains to me. “Rank and file EELV activists tend to support the Palestinians» Esther Benbassa adds.”But often their slant is related to questions of the mode of development, plundering of water resources and the fact that the West Bank colonists use intensive farming methods.“Many Greens are locally elected officials who have learned to sympathise with the Palestinians through groups of activists in their town. But that is not central to their activity. Regional development, urban planning, global warming, and social crises are the main concerns of these locally elected officials. They often worked with NGOs before getting involved in politics.”Jadot is basically an environmentalist, he worked for Greenpeace and at times can be genuinely radical. But this is a subject he is not familiar with, and he has a deep distrust of geopolitics, a Paris Green in his entourage explains to me.

Jadot has many disagreements with Melenchon, concerning the use of the word “apartheid”. On 13 February he told Radio J that he wants “colonisation to stop” and favours “the two-State solution”. Fine. But that does not mean he condones the word apartheid. “I do not use the term apartheid even though the 2018 law on the Nation-State does create a dangerous precedent for Israel. But apartheid is such a violent word, I do not want to apply it to Israel, even if certain governmental practices are discriminatory.” His party, EELV, at its 2021 Summer Seminar, did invite Hagai El-Ad, the head of the Israeli NGO B’Tselem which was the first to speak of apartheid on the whole of Israeli territory. “We have been attentive to their work from the beginning, that workshop was not insignificant. And since then, the media coverage of the Amnesty International report has made it possible to highlight the segregation of the Palestinians” a member of Jadot’s campaign staff explains. “So, what is the right word? The real issue is the equality of rights between the different inhabitants. The situation has changed since the passing of that law on the Nation-State, it symbolised the consolidation of an ethnocracy, it impacts our whole vision of states, the role of nationalism and even that of the diaspora. The Druse organised unprecedented street protests against that law which revealed an identity crisis Israeli society.”

And locally elected green officials have often fought the confusion between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, refusing to vote in favour of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition which was at the origin of the Maillard Resolution. There were heated debates in Paris, Strasbourg and Bordeaux. The Greens took their cue from the Jerusalem Declaration on anti-Semitism, drafted by over 200 academics from all over the world, adopted in March 2021 and defended by Jadot for Orient XXI: “The Jerusalem declaration on anti-Semitism is better suited than the one produced by the IHRA for distinguishing between the instances where hostility towards Israel may be identified with anti-Semitism and those where it may not, by providing example of both. It is a definition which takes seriously both the struggle against anti-Semitism and the importance of freedom of speech.” Jadot, like Melenchon, is mindful of freedom of speech.

To sum up: Melenchon, with a touch of bravado, has a project for an overall regime change, even though he is widely criticised, sometimes wrongly, sometimes not. He embodies global solidarity and is one of the rare candidates to speak of Gaza, which is praiseworthy.

Jadot embodies grass-root solidarity and raises the important issue of the developmental mode imposed by colonisation, his supporters are engaged in a legitimate local struggle over the definition of anti-Semitism. Roussel seems to neglect the issue somewhat. The pursuit of happiness is not uninteresting, even if it seems to be more a matter of personal taste. Nonetheless, his party is present at all the protests, and the discussions it has, like its enemy brothers in Melenchon’s camp, about apartheid in Israel may well contribute to a process of change.

And now, go for it: vote!

Yannick Jadot: “In occupied Palestine, climate change acts as a multiplier of perils”

Orient XXI. In June 2020 you signed an appeal by 1080 European MPs3 opposing the annexation of the West Bank. Thinking back, what is your opinion now on the Abraham Accords?

Yannick Jadot. The Abraham Accords normalised Israel’s relations with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan and marked the disappearance of the Palestinian question from the international and regional debate. They signified a worrisome change of paradigm regarding the solution of the Israel-Arab conflict. They meant the end of the principle of “land for peace” since these normalisation treaties were signed without any territorial concessions on account of the divergent interests at stake: alliances against Iran, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, economic reasons, etc. They signify the acceptance by the signatory states of the status quo in the occupied territories. They ratified the end of the 2002 Arab initiative which promised peace in exchange for a return to the 1967 borders and even further weakened the Palestinian position. Now even while in the short term, Israel appears to be less isolated and hence less at risk thanks to these rapprochements, the pursuit of colonisation which these accords encourage indirectly is not in the interests of anyone. If it remains unresolved, the “Palestinian question” will remain a source of regional tensions.

O. XXI. For a long time now, Europe has had nothing to say about that…

Y. J. Unfortunately, the plight of the Palestinians has vanished from the international agenda, except when the increase of violence and open conflict make their way into the news. The United States have washed their hands and Europe is content to provide economic, financial, and humanitarian aid, which is something at least. But it is not enough. As part of a reinforcement of the European Union’s foreign policy, the need for which is more apparent every day, I will schedule a resumption of negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians.

O. XXI. How do you explain the relative silence of President Macron and his cabinet on the Israeli-Palestinian issue during his term of office?

Y. J. I deplore the lack of commitment on the part of President Macron and his government regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which remains a fundamental subject for the stabilisation of that region and the upholding of international law. Moreover, the present situation weighs heavily on the cohesion of French society and gives rise to exacerbate and sometimes inadmissible reactions from some of our compatriots. Any initiative aimed at a resumption of peace talks on the basis of international law would contribute to easing the situation in France and avoid the identity-based tensions which the ecologists condemn. Besides the prospect of peace talks, we need to insist on the respect for international law, equal rights, and the end of discrimination.

O. XXI. Ecological issues are vital, also for reasons connected with the occupation and militarisation of the West Bank.

Y. J. Absolutely. Today, the territory identified for a future Palestinian State is disfigured, dislocated, segregated, and stratified, a territory where Israel determines, directly or indirectly, all the rules. At a time when the whole world agrees that climate change is acting to multiply the threats to civilisation, there are few places on the planet where this is better illustrated than in Palestine.

The Israeli occupation has made the Palestinians increasingly vulnerable to climate change via its appropriation of land and natural resources, in particular water, as well as the restrictions placed on the movements of persons, goods, and capitals. This not only prevents Palestinians from accessing basic resources to adapt themselves to climate change but also from making long-term arrangements.

The struggle for land and water is at the core of the Palestinians’ legitimate demands for justice.

Interview conducted on March 1st, 2022.

1L’Humanité, the FCP’s daily, is the French newspaper which keeps the closest tab on the situation in Palestine

2Theo Klein chaired the CRIF from 1983 to 1989. A prominent member of the”peace camp", favourable to negotiations with the PLO, he broke with the CRIF in 2012, blaming its participation in the campaign against Charles Enderlin in the Mohammed Al-Dura affair. He passed away in 2020.

3Jean-Luc Melenchon and Fabien Roussel also signed this text.