What more does it need? The governing coalition now established in Israel includes ministers who in any other country would be labelled fascists. Some of them have been defined as neo-Nazis by Daniel Blatman, professor at the Institute of Contemporary Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University and a Holocaust specialist. All of them embrace a Jewish supremacist ideology, in the belief that the rights of an Israeli Jew justify burying those of the Palestinians.
What more does it need? Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government has repeated its rejection of the establishment of a Palestinian state, it has intensified settlement activity which international law regards as a war crime, and it has imposed humiliating treatment on Palestinian prisoners, such as restricting the duration of showers and the right to cook, etc. It has changed the status quo which has prevailed in the West Bank since 1967 by transferring power from a military administration to a civil one under Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich, one of those deemed neo-Nazis by Blatman. An editorial in the daily Haaretz 1 asserts that this decision “constitutes de jure annexation of the West Bank. In light of the fact that there is no intention of granting civil rights to the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, the result of the agreement is a formal, full-fledged apartheid regime.”
Hawara: The soldiers replied by shooting at me
What more does it need? On the night of 26 February, dozens of settlers set fire to the village of Hawara, near Nablus, carrying out multiple abuses and wounding dozens of people, including one who died. The army and security services, which control every square inch of the West Bank and every movement be it by foot, by bicycle or by car, thanks to state-of-the-art technology highlighted by the series Fauda, stood by and did nothing to prevent the actions. Even worse, during the first few hours of the attack they protected the settlers. One of the inhabitants, Oday al-Domadi, told the BBC2 he was shut in his house with his children. “I shouted at the soldiers to protect the children and prevent the settlers from frightening them, but the soldiers responded by shooting at me and shouting at me to stay at home.” Eventually the army evacuated the Palestinians, but the settler militias continued to patrol the village freely in the coming days, with Smotrich saying it should be “wiped out.”
For the Haaretz editorialist Gideon Levy, what he calls “this pogrom” heralds new massacres like those at Sabra and Shatila in September 1982 in Beirut, in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed under the indulgent eye of the Israeli army. “There was no massacre at Hawara, not yet, but no one could have known in advance how things would turn out. If the rioters had also wanted to massacre the population, no one would have stood in their way on Sunday. No one stopped the Phalangists at Sabra and no one stopped the Phalangists at Hawara.” A big difference this time, the militias are Israeli, and enjoy a much greater degree of complicity from all the organs of the state.
Incantations for a two-state solution
What more does it need for the French government to react and correct its indulgence, or rather its complicity, with Israel? The president’s policy follows the same line as that of François Hollande who lamented, in the presence of Netanyahu, that he could not sing aloud “all his love for Israel and for its leaders”3. It is based on two shaky pillars: chanting incantations for the two-state solution and condemnation of settlement activity – regularly repeated French communiques along these lines clearly strike terror in Israel! – combined with growing political, economic, security and military support for successive Israeli governments which reject the two-state solution and accelerate settlement activity.
Emmanuel Macron is the only western head of state to receive Netanyahu since his election. If the communique is to be believed, the two officials, “expressed their desire to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries and to strengthen bilateral relations in all fields. The head of state reiterated France’s abiding commitment to Israel’s security.” Is Macron hoping to win Netanyahu over? He should have a word with his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, who began this strategy of rapprochement with him in the hope of “influencing” him, and who summed up the result of his efforts when he confided to Barack Obama in November 2011: “Benjamin, I can’t stand the sight of him, he’s a liar”.4.
Most likely, the French president is not at all trying to influence either Netanyahu or Israeli policy, which would require the imposition of sanctions to bring about the application of international law - sanctions which France applies to end the Russian occupation of Ukraine, but which it refuses to apply to end the occupation of Palestine which has been going on for more than half a century. And the French government which never fails to celebrate the “common values” it shares with Israel, pushes its partisanship and vindictiveness as far as to persecute the French-Palestinian lawyer and activist Salah Hamouri, deported to France, by denying his right to expression.5 And they talk about the spirit of Charlie Hebdo?
Macron has gone further than his predecessor in adopting the Israeli discourse and in attempts to stifle voices defending Palestine. He was the first French head of state to conflate antisemitism and antizionism. He supported a definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which in reality is aimed at protecting Israel from any criticism and which has been challenged both by the American Bar Association6, and by the Jerusalem Appeal signed by hundreds of intellectuals specialising in the history of the Holocaust and of antisemitism. He has pushed the criminalisation of the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement, urging his minister of Justice, Eric Dupont-Moretti, to issue a circular countering the decision by the European Court of Human Rights confirming the legality of BDS’ actions. Did you mention the state of Law? He denounced the Amnesty International report on apartheid in Israel/Palestine. He has weaponised the struggle against antisemitism not to defend the Jews but to criminalise solidarity with Palestine.
The “good antisemites”
Should one, moreover, associate the Israeli government with the necessary campaign against antisemitism? Everybody knows the indulgence it showed towards Donald Trump and his conspiratorial entourage, and the soft spot that Netanyahu has had for the extreme right in Europe, notably in the east. Clearly for them, some people can be “good antisemites,” as long as they defend Israel.
So what can France do about all this? In June 1967, despite a massive press campaign in Israel’s favour, President Charles de Gaulle condemned the Israeli aggression. At a famous press conference on 27 November 1967, he summed up the essence of the conflict: “Now in the territories it has taken, Israel is organising an occupation which cannot work without oppression, repression, expulsions ... bringing about a resistance which it in turn dubs terrorist.” He had taken a direction which bound all his successors up until Jacques Chirac, and which gave France unmatched prestige in the region. Times have certainly changed, but for the worse; repression is intensifying, as is resistance, which some continue to call “terrorist.” What more does it need to push Emmanuel Macron to act?
1« Israel’s Cabinet Just Advanced Full-fledged Apartheid in the West Bank », Haaretz, 26 février 2023.
2Tom Bateman, « Hawara West Bank: “What happened was horrific and barbaric” », BBC News, 27 février 2023.
3In Alain Gresh & Hélène Aldeguer, Un chant d’amour. Israël-Palestine, une histoire française, La Découverte, 2017.
5Benjamin Barthe, « La nouvelle vie sous surveillance de l’avocat franco-palestinien Salah Hamouri », Le Monde, 3 mars 2023.
6Michael Arria, « American Bar Association removes IHRA definition from antisemitism resolution », Mondoweiss, 14 février 2023.