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The Sound of Silence: A Tri-fold Mirror of France’s response to Israel’s War in Gaza

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The Sound of Silence: A Tri-fold Mirror of France’s response to Israel’s War in Gaza

The dynamics at play in France's response to the 2023-2024 Israeli war in Gaza through the lenses of internal strife, security concerns, and Foreign Policy politics.

After the Hamas atrocities on October 7th, 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined the country’s security objectives: “Eradicate Hamas, return all hostages, and guarantee that Gaza never again poses a threat to Israel”.

Quickly, political and diplomatic messages against Israel’s campaign emerged from foreign democratic allied countries. Initially minor, these voices gradually intensified into a wave of criticism, interrelated with the global public opinion shifting as distressing images of Palestinian civilian casualties emerged.

Within this global criticism against Israel, the stance of France stands out, unveiling at least three factors about France itself: a troubling trend in its socio-political landscape, a significant threat to its internal security, and a deficiency in its foreign policy expertise.

Regrettably, the primary source driving French criticism against Israel stems from antisemitic and anti-Zionist ideologies propagated by supporters of the left-wing political alliance, NESPU, which holds a significant presence in the French National Assembly. By appealing to an Islamist electorate feeling marginalized within the dominant culture, particularly amid the current volatile French political climate, the Radical Left adopts rhetoric reminiscent of Hamas in its condemnation of Israel. Over the years, NESPU’s leader Mr. Mélenchon, has perpetuated antisemitic stereotypes in his messages.[1]

The blending of anti-Zionism and antisemitism in ideological rhetoric is a longstanding phenomenon[2], known for his significant repercussions on antisemitic acts in cities hosting substantial Jewish populations.

In France, home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, Mr. Gérard Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior, reported a 300% increase in antisemitic acts between 2022 and 2023[3]. The anticipated statistics for 2024 appear even more alarming due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

The situation is so dire that Mr. Darmanin mobilized thousands of security personnel to safeguard Jewish sites.

While many officials and influencers demonstrated their sympathies with French Jews and condemned antisemitism, the conflict showed that it could serve as an alibi for too many unassimilated immigrants and Radical-Left supporters to engage in verbal or factual antisemitic acts.

In addition to the troubling trend of antisemitic acts in France, the European establishment—media and government officials—began pressuring Israel for restraint. Despite initially backing Israel’s right to self-defense, President Macron has consistently proclaimed his opposition to Israel’s current military campaign in Gaza.[4]

This “appeasement policy” reflects serious security concerns gripping France, especially following Hamas leader Khaled Mashal’s call for global jihad and recurrent intelligence alerts about ISIS-K, the “Islamic State – Khorasan Province”, planning imminent activities in Europe[5]. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been a tool for jihadist propaganda, inciting and mobilizing sympathizers against the West. Europol, the law enforcement agency of the EU, identifies lone wolves radicalized by online propaganda as the greatest Islamic terrorist threat in Europe.[6]

The terrorism threat has loomed over France noticeably since the November 2015 Paris Bataclan Theater attack. Following the deadly terrorist attack in Moscow in March 2024, France raised its terror alert level to the maximum. As preparations for next summer’s Paris Olympic Games are in full swing, the DGSI, France’s Internal Security Agency, is actively monitoring “endogenous and young potential radicalized recruits”.[7]

All over France, tensions between minorities and state symbols have escalated into violent urban riots, often involving mortar attacks and Molotov cocktails.[8] The appearance of AK-47s, previously associated mainly with drug criminals, has become increasingly concerning. The society is polarized as the 2024 EU parliamentary elections approach, fomenting a climate of animosity. Numerous attacks and crimes against mayors, priests, and teachers have intensified feelings of insecurity.

The calls for a cease-fire in Gaza directed towards Israel from the Elysée rooftops are primarily aimed at quelling tensions simmering on French soil. The Middle East conflict exposes the palpable atmosphere of anxiety pervading France, as evidenced by this appeasement policy.

Cut from the same bolt of cloth, US President Joe Biden, caught between pressure from his far-left flank and concerns from Democrat strategists regarding the November 2024 election polls, is also urging Israel to cease its military operations in Gaza.

From the same spectrum, on a different prism, Prime Minister Netanyahu has also called for a cease-fire, insisting that Hamas return the hostages and disarm. However, France hears the Israeli narrative about Gaza without listening, as the Israeli Premier’s words fall like silent raindrops, echoing in the wells of silence within the Elysée Palace.

The third wave of pressure against Israel’s campaign in Gaza comes from supporters of the “two-state” solution approach. They are frustrated by the Oslo Agreements’ neglect and the refusal of the Israeli conservative administration—termed an “extreme-right regime”—to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a legitimate partner. Additionally, the progress in the Abraham Accords normalization talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel, along with the potential return of President Trump to the White House in November 2024, has further exacerbated their frustrations.

After the terror attacks of October 7, French advocates of this notion exploited the war in Gaza to advance pre-established political ideologies. They swiftly shifted Israel’s status from victim to perpetrator. The Israeli narrative was supplanted by lines echoing Hamas’ rhetoric, employing arguments from Qatar, Turkey, and Jordan. Israel was repeatedly blamed for the political deadlock with the Palestinians[9], Prime Minister Netanyahu was demonized[10], and Mr. Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian politician popular among Palestinians but jailed by Israel for terrorist acts, was suggested as a potential candidate to lead the Palestinian Authority[11].

Among the most ardent advocates of the “Two-State Solution,” former Quai d’Orsay officials have been particularly harsh in their criticism of Israel. Some have even resorted to using antisemitic statements, propagating medieval labels[12], and frequently accusing Israel of being an Apartheid state[13] and practicing ethnic cleansing or genocide[14].

For the general public, unfamiliar with the complexities of the Middle East, these experts appear trustworthy. Their advocacy for imposing the “Two-State Solution” on Israel seems legitimate, given the objectivity associated with their authoritative positions. They are employed by prestigious global institutions to educate future elites, they offer geopolitical advisory services worldwide, catering to a spectrum of clients, ranging from reputable companies to more dubious entities. Their influence on the public and foreign policy-makers is not negligible.

More concerning is the apparent lack of understanding among former high-ranking officials at the DGSE, the French Agency for External Security, regarding Israel’s strategic objectives during their analysis of the war[15]. If this reflects the current level of expertise at the DGSE, headed by diplomats from the Quai d’Orsay in recent years, it raises questions about the accuracy of intelligence collection and analysis at the regional desk level, or perhaps indicates a deficiency in objective and reliable methodologies at the central “Research & Ops” department.

In any case, this should be a cause for concern for the new agency chief, Mr. Nicolas Lerner, the former DGSI director, regarding the agency’s ability to perform strategic assessments of Israel.

From the barricades in the streets to the corridors of the Elysée, the French approach to the current conflict in Gaza exposes worrisome and underlying antisemitism from the Radical Left and minority groups, a fragile climate of security threats, and a community of influential experts echoing a flawed and questionable narrative.

  1. Sandrine Cassini, “Anti-Semitism: how Jean-Luc Mélenchon cultivates ambiguity”, (French), Le Monde, January 5, 2024

  2. Annie Kriegel, Is Israel Guilty? (French), Robert Laffont (publishers), 1982

  3. Gérard Darmanin, “Situation in the Middle East and fight against anti-Semitism”, (French) “Question Time” at the French Parliament, October 24, 2023

  4. Seb Starcevic, “France, Egypt, Jordan jointly call for ‘unconditional’ Gaza cease-fire”, Politico, April 9, 2024

  5. Romain David, “Terrorist threat: Today we are witnessing the great return of international and paramilitary terrorism”, (French), Public-Sénat, March 25, 2024

  6. EUROPOL, “European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report”, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2023

  7. Céline Berthon, “Terrorist threats and preparations for the Olympic Games”, (French), Hearing at the Senate, March 5, 2024

  8. Bertrand Cavallier et Gérald Pandelon, “Explosive climate – Weapons, insurrection and criminal networks: behind the riots, the dizzying loss of the effective monopoly on violence by the State”, (French), Atlantico, July 7, 2023

  9. Dominique de Villepin : “Self-defense is not a right to indiscriminate revenge”, (French), Interview on France-Inter, October 12, 2023

  10. Hubert Védrine, Israel-Hamas: “The urgency is to find a path towards a Palestinian state”, (French), Interview on Europe 1-CNews, March 3, 2024

  11. Amb. Gérard Araud, “Situation in Israel and in Gaza” (French), Hearing at the French Parliament Foreign Committee, November 15, 2023

  12. Hubert Vedrine, “In the West Bank, settlers uproot olive trees, poison wells, and shoot kids”, (French), Interview on Europe 1-CNews, March 3, 2024

  13. Amb. Gérard Araud, “There will be officially an apartheid state – They [Israel] are, in fact, already”, The Atlantic Magazine, April 19, 2019

  14. Dominique de Villepin, “Genocide intention of Israel” (French), Interview on France Inter, January 15, 2024

  15. Alain Juillet, “What future for Gaza? An unsustainable geopolitical impasse” (French), Interview on OpenBox TV.fr, January 12, 2024

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