Macron delights Netanyahu with words of support for Israel

French president tells Israeli PM ‘anti-zionism is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism’

Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu and French president Emmanuel Macron react after making a joint declaration at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on Sunday. Photograph: Stephane Mahe/EPA

Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu and French president Emmanuel Macron react after making a joint declaration at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on Sunday. Photograph: Stephane Mahe/EPA

 

President Emmanuel Macron continued his quest to tame some of the world’s most intractable leaders on Sunday, when he invited Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Paris.

Just two days after he received Donald Trump with great pomp, Mr Macron called Mr Netanyahu “dear Bibi”, and hugged him repeatedly. They spoke at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the roundup of more than 13,000 Jews, then talked at the Élysée Palace.

At the commemoration ceremony, Mr Macron delighted Mr Netanyahu by saying, “We will not cede anything to anti-zionism, for it is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism.”

Later at the Élysée, Mr Netanyahu thanked Mr Macron for his “evocative statement expressing the fact that anti-zionism is a form of anti-Semitism . . . Exposing this, lancing this boil, is a very, very important service that you, President Macron, are giving to the renewed battle against prejudice.”

Critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians say the conflation of anti-zionism with anti-Semitism is a tactic to silence all questioning of Israeli policies.

Mr Macron appeared to give Israel a say in the implementation of the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Israel opposes. “I assured him of our vigilance,” Mr Macron said, “In particular on the strict enforcement of the nuclear accord in all its dispositions and with the will to undertake a demanding dialogue with Israel regarding the follow-up to this protocol.”

Two-state solution

After expressing France’s “unwavering and unconditional support for the security of Israel,” Mr Macron made a pro forma statement of France’s support for a two-state solution and gave Israel a mild tongue-lashing over the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu maintained it was not the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land but “the persistent Palestinian refusal to accept a nation state for the Jewish people in any boundaries” that blocks peace. The Palestine Liberation Organisation recognised Israel in 1988 and in the 1993 Oslo accords. The 20 per cent of Israel’s population who are Palestinian fear losing their rights in a country that gives priority to its own Jewish character.

Mr Macron wants France to play a role in negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, which stopped in April 2014. The Hollande administration held two failed attempts to relaunch them, by convening international conferences that enraged Mr Netanyahu.

Sunday marked the first time an Israeli prime minister was invited to the annual commemoration of the “Vél d’hiv” roundup, in which 13,152 Jews, 4,115 of them children, were arrested for deportation to Nazi death camps. A few adults survived. All the children perished.

The majority were held for up to five days in summer heat in the Vél d’hiv cycling ring, without water or sanitation. The July 16th operation was the biggest of many round-ups of Jews in 1942 and became a symbol of the Holocaust in France.

The post-war presidents, Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand, refused to acknowledge France’s responsibility for the Vél d’hiv. It was not until July 16th, 1995, that President Jacques Chirac admitted that “France, country of the Enlightenment and the rights of man, land of asylum, France, on that day, carried out the irreparable.”

Condemned

The issue resurfaced in April, when the extreme right-wing presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, said the Vichy collaborationist regime did not represent France, so France was not responsible.

“It really was France that organised the roundup and deportation and for almost all, the death of 13,152 people arrested on July 16th and 17th in Paris,” Mr Macron said on Sunday. He condemned the “accommodations and subtleties of those who say that Vichy wasn’t France.”  

The Vél d’hiv “was the work of the French police. Not a single German lent a hand,” he added.

Racism and anti-Semitism “did not die with Vichy,” Mr Macron continued. He listed anti-Semite murders of recent years and was applauded when he promised that the justice system will “shed all light on the death of Sarah Halimi” last April.

A Jewish woman living in the poor Paris neighbourhood of Belleville, Ms Halimi was beaten by a Muslim neighbour who shouted “Allahu Akbar” and “I have killed the satan” when he threw her from a balcony. French authorities have so far refused to classify the murder as an anti-Semitic crime.