Saturday, July 29, 2017

Netanyahu in Paris: The Holocaust, Friendships, and Disagreements

Freddy Eytan, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Every day, the new president, Emmanuel Macron, manages to do something surprising. The French leader, who took up residence in the presidential palace on May 14, 2017, has shown that he quickly learns all the issues in the foreign and domestic realms and that shoring up France’s image among the nations of the world does not require great, long-term political experience. 
Macron has held working meetings with several leaders – including Chancellor Merkel, Presidents Putin and Trump, as well as Mahmoud Abbas, who came especially for an official visit to Paris.
The visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, was different and unique. It was not typical of the sort of relations Paris maintains with the other countries of the world. Paris, like Germany, has a dark past and a painful history, and the wounds have not yet healed. The World War II Vichy regime not only submitted to the Nazis but also collaborated with the annihilation of the Jewish people. There were French policemen who arrested and humiliated French Jews, pushing them on the path to the extermination camps.
French police escort Jewish men to deportation trains at the Austerlitz station. Paris, France.
French police escort Jewish men to deportation trains at the Austerlitz station.
Paris, France. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
The presence of the Israeli prime minister with the current president of France, at a ceremony to mark 75 years since the massive deportation, symbolizes more than anything that “Am Yisrael Chai” – “The people of Israel live.” It proves that, unlike in the past, the French Jewish community has, like all the Jews of the Diaspora, an independent and sovereign country for refuge that can fight and defend itself against any enemy.
However, intellectuals, far-left parties and movements, and parts of the media do not view the close and natural relationship between French Jewry and Israel with equanimity. Many demonstrated against the visit, joining the chorus of pro-Palestinian organizations that demanded a boycott of Israel and dubbed Netanyahu a war criminal. Lamentably and infuriatingly, those denouncing the visit also included some former Israeli diplomats and an Israeli historian, Zeev Sternhell, who did not shrink from saying in a lengthy opinion column in Le Monde that “Netanyahu heads a government more extreme than the National Front in France.” Sternhell harshly attacked the Israeli government’s policy, which in his view is leading to “destruction.” He indirectly compared a proposed Knesset nation-state bill with the Vichy regime, saying that Netanyahu knows only the “language of force and is not at all moral.” He called on the French president “to stand firm against Netanyahu’s demands to forgo the establishment of a Palestinian state.” Sternhell’s words, and those of others like him, resonate for the BDS movements and the Communist Party and indeed eggs them on in their struggle.
Under such circumstances, Israel’s public-diplomacy campaign in France has been damaged. It is hard to wage the struggle when Jewish activists of the far left, as well as Israelis, take to the media to vilify the Netanyahu government and vent their antagonism toward it. ...

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