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Tuesday, July 18 2017
Macron, most pro-Israel leader in Europe
Will practical measures follow words ?
The new French President, Emmanuel Macron, established himself last Sunday as one of the foremost pro-Israel leaders in Europe.
The date – July 16 - was highly significant. It marked the 75th anniversary of the most hideous episodes of the antisemitic persecution that took place in wartime France.
On July 16, 1942, thousands of Jewish families, including many children, were rounded up by the French Vichy state police in Paris. After being held at the Velodrome d’Hiver (the Winter Velodrome) and other places in unspeakable conditions for a week, and then at transit camps outside the city, they were sent to Auschwitz to be gassed.
Similar round ups took place all over France, including in the so-called “free zone” in southern France, which was not yet under German military occupation by then.
Ever since 1945, the anniversary of the round-up has been maintained as a memorial day by the French Jewish community. However, it was not recognised as a national commemoration until 1993, and no monument of any size was erected on the site of Velodrome d’Hiver, even after it was destroyed in a fire in 1959. Meanwhile, the French authorities’ collaboration in the round-up was not explicitly recognized until 1995.
President Macron – who inaugurated a larger monument on the site of the Velodrome d’Hiver, with the names of the 4,000 children held there in July 1942 – was more outspoken during the memorial ceremony than any previous French president or prime minister.
He not only reiterated a public admission of the French administration’s complicity in the Holocaust, but also criticised the two most prestigious post-war presidents, Charles de Gaulle and François Mitterrand, for ignoring the issue. He described in very moving terms the agony and deaths of the Jewish children, adding that they would “live forever” in France’s collective memory. Mr Macron’s stand was criticised by several right-wing politicians and, more glaringly, by Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of France’s hard left.
The involvement of Israel was no less startling. To start with, Mr Macron invited Benjamin Nethanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, to attend the July 16 ceremonies. He thus acknowledged as natural and legitimate the relationship between Israel and French and European Jewry.
Moreover, he addressed Mr Nethanyahu as “dear friend, dear Bibi” and allowed him to stress that France and Israel were currently fighting a common “enemy of civilization”. Again, such statements were decried as questionable by various members of the political establishment and the media. Charles Enderlin, who served for many years as the Israel correspondent of France 2, a French state-owned TV channel, opined that the July 16 round-up was “strictly a French affair” and that Mr Nethanyahu’s presence was only “adding confusion”.
In political terms, Mr Macron’s boldest statement was that anti-Zionism was the same as antisemitism. When prime minister in 2016, Manuel Valls, a socialist, made the same statement while addressing the Representative Council of French Jewish Organisations. He elicited criticism and anger from the right and the left, and some observers wondered whether the then socialist president of the Republic, François Hollande, really supported him on the issue.
Mr Macron, as the new head of state, is clearly aligning himself with Mr Valls’s remarks. It should be stressed that both Mr Valls and Mr Macron were following the European Union Declaration on Antisemitism, which characterises inordinate criticism and “demonisation” of Israel as antisemitism, while holding non-demonising criticism of the Israeli government’s policies as legitimate.
What remains to be seen is whether Mr Macron’s new line on Israel will translate in effective day-to-day measures.
Will the French president take stronger measures against BDS ? Will he rescind the pledges to tag of Israeli goods produced beyond the Green Line? Will he acknowledge the realities on the ground and Jewish rights in Jerusalem ? Will Quai d’Orsay, the French Foreign Ministry, stop siding with extreme anti-Israel votes at the UN, Unesco and the World Health Organisation? Will the ever-returning French temptation to convene “peace conferences” in Paris be dropped, and will Paris back the emerging regional cooperation between the Sunni states and Israel?
© Michel Gurfinkiel & The Jewish Chronicle, 2017
Michel Gurfinkiel, a French journalist and public intellectual, is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum. He is editor at large of Valeurs Actuelles.
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