Hollande's presidency: France, Israel and the Jews

Interview with Freddy Eytan, expert of France's Middle East policy, distinguished diplomat and author: "France is almost obsessive about an international conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

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Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

“Prior to his election, François Hollande, President of France, had not developed close ties with the Jewish community, in contrast with the two previous right wing presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. As far as Israel is concerned, Hollande follows a basic policy line similar to that of previous socialist leaders such as Leon Blum and François Mitterrand. Their guiding principle is support for the existence of a Jewish state in secure and recognized borders. At the same time, the Palestinian people should have self-determination in a state alongside Israel.”

Freddy Eytan is a journalist and former diplomat. He was Israel’s ambassador to Mauritania and also served in Israel's embassies in Paris and Brussels. He is an expert on France’s Middle East policy and has published twenty books, among them Sarkozy, the Jewish World and Israel, published in French in 2009 by the Alphée publishing house in Paris.         

“One key element of Hollande’s foreign policy is that he wants a strong France closely bonded with Germany in the European Union. He is suspicious of the United States and was furious with Obama for his second thoughts on overturning the Assad regime in Syria, reversing his position on the issue at the last minute. Since then relations between Paris and Washington have remained tense. In military operations, such as in Mali, Hollande prefers that France should go it alone.


Bilateral French-Israeli relations have significantly improved and are currently the best they have been since Israel’s honeymoon with the French socialists in the 1950s.
“In his program for the 2012 Presidential elections, the Palestinian-Israel conflict only figured in 12th place. In the Middle East, apart from his desire to get rid of Assad, Hollande saw the rise of ISIS and in particular that of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a strategic menace. In contrast to Obama's actions, Hollande has reinforced France’s relations with the Egyptian President General El-Sisi, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. He was also far less conciliatory toward the Iranian nuclear project than the Americans, who sought an agreement at any cost.

“Hollande keeps the Palestinian-Israel conflict separate from bilateral French-Israeli relations. Bilateral French-Israeli relations have significantly improved and are currently the best they have been since Israel’s honeymoon with the French socialists in the 1950s. Both countries now have more interests in common. The wave of Muslim terror in Europe requires collaboration and exchange of information between their intelligence services. Military relationships have improved, together with economic interactions. Nowadays several major French companies are represented in Israel including the EDF energy group and the Alsthom transport company.

“At the same time however, France maintains its 'automatic' favorable attitude toward the Palestinians. Chirac offered the PLO a diplomatic office in 1974. Mitterrand received Arafat in 1989 at the Elysee Palace in Paris, and under Sarkozy, France voted in favor of the Palestinians joining UNESCO.

“In line with this automatic stance, under Hollande's leadership France supported a scandalous motion ignoring the Jewish connection with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a strongly worded letter to Hollande to protest the motion. In Hollande's somewhat bizarre reply, he explained that there had been a technical error and a misunderstanding. French Jewish leaders, including the Chief Rabbi Haim Corsia reacted far more forcefully than the Israeli foreign office, which limited itself to the publication of a communique on the matter.

“Another negative development is the almost obsessive French plan for an international conference on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. France sees here an opportunity to insert itself in the vacuum left by the Obama administration.

“The French parliament, with its socialist majority, voted in favor of the recognition of a Palestinian state. This was an important, albeit symbolic vote. Only the government can formalize such a decision, something it has not done. Hollande had to take into account here the power of the pro-Palestinian left wing in his socialist party, as well as the Green party. As Hollande is the least popular post-war French president to date, he will need all the support he can get if he wants to have a chance in the 2017 presidential elections.

“Under Hollande’s presidency, France has known a number of murderous terrorist attacks by Muslims, both against non-Jews and Jews. Since last November a state of emergency has been declared. Since the murders of four Jews in Toulouse in 2012 the security around Jewish synagogues and schools has been greatly reinforced.

“France’s current Prime Minister Manuel Valls, has on many occasions expressed great admiration for French Jewry. Both Hollande and Valls have come out strongly against anti-Semitism. Yet they viewed Netanyahu’s calls urging French Jews to move to Israel in a bad light, seeing this as interference in the country’s internal affairs.

“All deadly terrorist attacks against Jews have been committed by French Muslims. Despite the state of emergency and the massive presence of police and the military in the streets, there is still a feeling of insecurity in the country. This feeling is particularly strong among Jews.

“The first round of the French presidential elections will be held in April 2017. The political campaigns have already begun. It is already apparent that this will be a rude and noisy battle, which will strengthen extremists in both the left and right camp. What that means for the Jews remains to be seen.”




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