Israel’s Impunity, France’s Complicity

Too little, too late. How else to describe the wariness of Emmanuel Macron’s declarations dealing with the ongoing genocidal war in the Gaza Strip He began by mouthing a pious wish which rang only too false: ‘Israel’s operations in Rafah must cease.’ But contrary to what the French president claimed succinctly, it’s not now but for several months that there has been no safe zone for the Palestinians.

Jerusalem, 24 October 2023. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu (right) and French President Emmanuel Macron (left) after their joint press conference.
Christophe Ena/POOL/AFP

Who can remember that President Macron once declared that Rafah was a ‘red line’? Speaking from Germany, he pretended to stand his ground and yet he has never ceased to backtrack with each new Israeli violation. ‘Standing firm in his boots,’ he would remind us that ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ – as though international law could conceive of a right to defend oneself against a people whose land one occupies – but most of all he designates only one guilty part ‘Hamas is responsible for the present situation’. The Israeli chutzpa finds a home in France.

Meaningless talking points

Let there be no mistake: French officialdom is complicit with what is going on in Gaza. Justifying the ongoing genocide, it has given credence, along with the MPs of the ruling majority and often those of the right-wing opposition and the far right too – but also at times the left – all the arguments used to vindicate Benyamin Netanyahu’s government.

Emmanuel Macron’s France has taken no concrete steps to stop that offensive. Economic sanctions, symbolic measures to remove the offending flag from the public eye, athletic boycott in view of the coming Olympics, a weapons embargo, all of these is only used against Russia. When it comes to Tel Aviv, there is a serious lack of imagination.

To this day, French diplomacy has not seen fit to react to the ICJ’s ruling. It took four days and still more massacres for the chief of state – and he alone – to mention, with no comment, atheruling by the highest international judiciary instance, whose rulings are binding for all UN members. For all except Israel, a country which systematically flouts both international and humanitarian law. For all except its allies like the USA but also like France, whose complicity in the ongoing genocide is overwhelming.

In line with the Elysée, or rather under orders from the President, the Foreign Ministry is no longer what it was 20 years ago when our minister honoured his country in the UN headquarters in New York by opposing the US invasion of Iraq; nor what it was in 1980 when it convinced Europe to recognise the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, denounced at the time by Israel and the United States as a ‘terrorist organisation’. And today that same ministry with its latest press release locks itself into meaningless talking points: ‘the seriousness of the situation’, ‘indignation’… One might think France is no longer a permanent member of the UN Security Council, since Paris helps sabotage the credibility of its agencies, as with UNRWA, in keeping with Israel’s propaganda machine.

It will take more than a few belated appeals, purely declamatory, in favour of a cease-fire. It will take more than a few votes at the UN in favour of the admission of Palestine together with a persistent refusal to recognise the State of Palestine; Spain, Ireland and Norway have been less squeamish on that score. It will take more than a long-winded ministerial press release on the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor proposal to issue warrants against the Israeli and Palestinian rulers, including convoluted hints that Israel could prosecute the crimes committed by its army, making such warrants unnecessary, when Israeli justice has not sanctioned top military brass for decades. And why has Paris never protested the decade-old campaign to discredit the Court, threaten its officials, recently revealed by the Israeli media +972?1

On 22 May, French foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné hosted a visit to Paris by Israël Katz, his Israeli counterpart. This man is one of the few rulers cited by the ICJ as having made public statements calling for genocide. Indeed, on 13 October 2023, Israël Katz declared on the social network X: ‘We are going to fight the terrorist organisation Hamas and destroy it. The entire civilian population of Gaza has been ordered to leave at once. We will win. They will not receive a drop of water or a single battery until they have left the world.’ And Katz thanked his French colleague for his refusal to recognise the State of Palestine and his refusal to put Hamas and Israel on the same footing as the ICC prosecutor has done. This warm reception took place even as Israel was stepping up its massacres in Gaza, and especially in Rafah.

A precious security partner

What can France do to bring pressure to bear on Israel and make it stop its operations in the Gaza Strip? When 35% of the country’s exports come to Europe, the use of that economic lever is not even threatened; no more than the suspension of arms deliveries, or their components (the exact value of France’s exports of these is not known)) or munitions; nor the slightest attempt to make them obey international law by sanctioning the French firms present in the occupied territories, like Carrefour or Alstom. Tel Aviv also remains a privileged partner of Paris in security matters, both for surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software to be used during the Olympics, or for the manufacture of surveillance drones, used to monitor the Southern borders of Europe.

Within the European Union, Paris opposes those countries who wish to suspend their association agreements with Israel, while our Walloon neighbours in Belgium have banned aircraft carrying weapons for Israel from transiting via the Liège airport. When the students of Sciences Po, the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) or the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales (EHESS) occupy peacefully the premises of their institutions to demand the suspension of cooperation agreements with Israeli universities, often linked with the country’s defence and armament industries, they are expelled by force and absurdly accused of anti-Semitism and of bringing ‘fire and blood’ to their establishment. Yet only concrete measures which would make Israel pay the price of its current adventure could curb its army’s murderous strategy. Henceforth France is in the rearguard of European countries when it comes to upholding international law and the rights of the Palestinians.

The Convention for the Prevention and Repression of the Crime of Genocide obliges all the State parties to take steps to ‘‘prevent an on-going genocide’ even when it is not taking place on its territory. By refusing to do this, France, a signatory nation, could be prosecuted for its non-compliance. France hides behind an axiom which constitutes a cowardly attempt to manipulate the feelings of historic guilt associated with the Shoah: ‘To accuse the Jewish state of genocide is to cross a moral threshold.’

Shouts of anger in the streets of Paris and elsewhere

We must hearken to the degradation of France’s reputation in the Global South: see the French embassy stoned in Beirut, hear the angry crowd shouting in front of the French Institute in Tunis, listen to the Palestinians’ disappointment, a people once so prompt to pay tribute to the land of de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac. On the domestic front, each day the gulf grows wider between the government’s rhetoric and a large share of the population, horrified by the blank cheque given to Israel and who swarm the streets, shouting their despair and helplessness. Since last Monday evening in Paris, they have been several thousand taking part in what amount to practically spontaneous protests, becoming veritable marches of rebellion in many neighbourhoods. French flags are flown next to those of Palestine, South Africa and Kanaky, carried by citizens who refuse to let their government and their president legitimate in their name these nearly eight months of genocide.

At a time when the far-right movements are laying siege to the European Parliament, fanning with all the means at their disposal the identitarian stench of voters nostalgic for the grandeur of yesterday, there is only one way to be on the right side of History: commit us to stopping the first genocide of the 21st century.

1Yuval Abraham et Meron Rapoport, ‘Surveillance and interference: Israel’s covert war on the ICC exposed’, 28 May 2024.