With the upcoming elections in France, this Article will permit to understand the complex relation between Israel and France.
- France has traditionally been an anti-Semite country, from the Dreyfus affairs to the denunciations during WW2. Still, since the end of the Second World War, huge improvements have been made. The new antisemitism athmosphere in France is mainly coming from North African immigrants and not from French Natives themselves (except few exceptions).
- France is traditionally supporting the under-dog. French philosophers and traditional foreign policies under leftist governments, have always been marked by strong sensitivity with moral values and anti-colonialism sentiment, sometimes irrational. That irrationality might explains how the French supported Israel until 1967. At that time, France probably was the biggest ally and arms furnisher of the young Jewish State. Still after the extraordinary and total victory of the Jewish State in 1967 against its Arab neighbors, French public opinion and therefore French Foreign policy ceased to support Israel, as they were no longer the underdog, but had become a strong regional superpower.
- After the War, French ceased to export arms to Israel. Paris took a 360 degree pan-Arab policy, led by the charismatic and iconic General de Gaulles, whose principles are still being used by many political parties in France: the Gaullisme”.
- After the 1973 oil embargo and War, France decided to support unconditionally all the Arab State and its traditional allies. French companies and government benefited from large contracts, especially in the nuclear area, in Syria , Lebanon , Iraq, Morroco , Algeria, Tunisia… Many French weapons were also sold in this region. France enjoyed a special relationship with the Arab World, such as the US with Mexico or England with India. France also refused to break up their relationship with Israel. For historical reasons first and strategic interests. Another reason is the pressure of the powerful Jewish Lobby in France.
- The Internal factors. French Jewish have always represented around 1% of the French population. This Jewish population mainly live in Paris and its area. Paris is the location of power and decision-making in France. Their relative success and their solidarity managed them to build an informal and powerful lobby that is able to influence the French foreign policy when it comes to Israel. This is the reason today, as despite being a very close ally of many Arab countries, the country still brand itself as “a friend of Israel”.
- Internal demographic factor : Still since the 60’s, an important immigration from North Africa and Africa arrived in France. They are all French nationals. The children of these migrants ( the “Second and Third generations”) grew up in poor cities aroung Paris, hopeless and not well-integrated into the French society. They developed antisemitism with root originating from the antisemitism of North Africa. In the recent years, almost 100% of the new anti-Semitic attacks in France have been committed by North Africans. This new waves of antisemitism pushed a lot of French Jews to exodus – combined with slow economic growth in France- in Israel, the United States or the United Kingdom. The number of Jews in France is slowly decreasing, therefore Jews will be less able to impact French Foreign Policy concerning Israel. On the contrary, French nationals with North-Africans roots compose around 11% of French population officially, and around 16% unofficially with the illegal immigrants. Even if they are not yet fully integrated into the French Society, they hold the French citizenship and the right to vote. Successfully many of them will enter French Top Schools and Universities. This new generation is uncontestably more religious than their parents, most of them do the Ramadan or eat only Halal for example.
- French with arabic roots also hold a negative view of the Israeli State and a very positive view of the Palestinian as showed by the BDS, a pro-Palestinian movement originated from French Universities. The Palestinian cause and the reject of Zionism is deeply embedded into North Africa youth in France. With more and more of them entering in politics or being able to vote, the candidates adapt and propose a more and more pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rethoric, especially the left and the extreme-left. This has been already seen in England with the Labor Party of Jeremy Corbyn and the incredible number of officials that have been suspended for Anti-Semitic declarations. Therefore the Foreign Policy of France is likely going to be Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli, they will insist on condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Israeli discriminations towards its Arab Minority, funding pro-Palestinian NGOs. Additionally they won’t break up totally their relationship with Israel, mainly because they want to find an issue to the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the ultimate creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and in Gaza. France will insist on this point and they know they need Israels approval to build a Palestinian State. A Palestinian State recognized in the UN will be seen as a huge victory for French Foreign Policy.
- Concerning Economy , France is totally dependant on Arab oil therefore they will continue their tolerant policies toward Arab States, disregarding Human Rights. Israel has little to offer, except innovations and Start-ups. France needs to revitalize its economy and could be interested in investing in some Israeli Start-ups, but they now they might have to compete with the Americans, so they will probably not really count on it. All this will confort the French in their pro-Arab Foreign Policy.
- However concerning security and military aspects, France will be interested in a semi-secret cooperation with the Israelis. Especially in order to localize and track its own Islamic elements and to learn how to perform anti-terrorist operations, in which Israelis have a lot to offer. Additionally they might seek Israels techniques of urban warfares, especially for their interventions in Africa, (Mali, Centrafrican Republic, probably Libya in a close future.). Therefore the military and the intelligence apparatus will counterbalance in the shadow and push for less anti-Israel rethoric of the government. The situation in Syria, and the number of IS cells and terror attacks in Europe will be key factors to determine how far this security cooperation would go. But ultimately, it will not change the image of the public opinion of Israel, especially concerning its treatment of the Palestinians.
- Additionally, the image deficit of Israel in France, will be accentuated by the presence of an Hawkish government in Israel, led by the right or the extreme right. Indeed Israel is undoubtedly leaning to the Right (Libermann appointed as defense minister and Benett as education minister.). This leaning to the right will also be shaped by the number of rockets landing in Israel and the number of terror attacks committed by the Palestinians.
- From its side Israel does not need France economically or militarily. From the diplomatic perspective France is one of the most important actor in the European Union with Germany. Therefore having France as diplomatical ally would improve drastically the image of Israel at the United Nations. Israel would be able to pressure the EU for the funding of radical Palestinians NGOs, or more importantly to fight the BDS movement.
- Fighting the BDS movement will be extremely important for Israel in the upcoming years, they learned from the example of South Africa and the impact of boycott on the long term. They will definitely have to do a parallel diplomacy with Jewish organizations in France in order to do grassroots PR in Universities and in the main cities. However it is unlikely to succeed due to the demographic trends in France and the Human Rights importance.
Economically the relationship will remain the same, with a slight decrease of French Investments in Israel, due to BDS pressure.
Politically, France will support more than ever its traditional Arab Partners, even if they are shifting towards Russia (and Syria) or the US (Saudi Arabia, Lebanon,Egypt). Still, it will be able to retain its soft power and discrete grip over these regimes. Diplomatic cooperation will be deep. Especially after the heavy Qataris and Saudis investments in France. Israel will remain a partner of France, but French leaders would avoid to show support or to be seen with Israeli leaders due to high internal pressure.
Security concerning security and intelligence sharing: it will greatly depend on terror attacks in Europe. The level of Chaos in Syria and the degree of intervention needed in Africa. Intelligence and security cooperation will be high tough secret and will undoubtedly influence and moderate anti-Israeli stance at the political level.