The French city of Cannes has denied reports that an Israeli general is overseeing security forces tasked with protecting this year’s film festival, which began on Wednesday.
But authorities in the glamorous Mediterranean resort have confirmed that Brigadier-General Nitzan Nuriel was consulted as part of a security review.
The city now appears to be trying to play down the Israeli general’s role even further.
After two horrific mass attacks by suspected Islamic State extremists in France, and the recent bombings in Brussels, it is right that French authorities would do all they can to keep the festival, which attracts major stars and media attention, safe.
But it makes no sense for Cannes to turn to an Israeli general whose entire career consists of brutalizing and violating the human rights of millions of Palestinians under military occupation.
A former senior aide to two Israeli prime ministers, Nuriel also took a commanding role in Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, where Israeli forces indiscriminately targeted civilians in attacks Human Rights Watch called war crimes.
On Tuesday, the French edition of The Times of Israel reported that Nuriel was involved in overseeing the massive security operation by land, sea and air to protect the festival.
It later amended its article with a retraction and correction, saying that Cannes city hall had denied Nuriel’s involvement.
The website’s English version states that The Hollywood Reporter had “claimed that Nuriel is also in charge of security for the 10-day event.”
“The city of Cannes, however, refuted that claim, saying Nuriel is not involved whatsoever and that security preparations are under the exclusive authority of the interior ministry,” The Times of Israel adds.
The current version of the story in The Hollywood Reporter says only that Nuriel was “brought in by new mayor David Lisnard to overhaul security protocol.”
In a telephone call on Wednesday, the press office at the Cannes city hall confirmed to The Electronic Intifada that it had sent out the denials to various media.
The claim that Nuriel is in charge has nonetheless traveled quickly.
The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz ran a report with the headline, “Former Israeli general overseeing Cannes Film Festival.”
Haaretz cites a report from International Business Times.
That report says that “Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, has hired a former Israel Defense Forces general to help oversee the elaborate security operation.”
The Haaretz version inflates the Israeli role even further: “Six months after the deadly Paris attacks, Cannes Mayor David Lisnard hired counter-terrorism expert Nitzan Nuriel, a former brigadier general, to oversee security operations at the two-week event.”
What is not in doubt is that Nuriel himself spoke to The Hollywood Reporter – he is quoted opining on security in Cannes, though not directly claiming to be in charge.
While it remains unclear exactly where the notion originated, it continues to be disseminated.
An online report from the UK’s mass circulation Daily Mirror newspaper on Thursday, about the huge security deployment in Cannes, still claims that that Nuriel is “overseeing the operation.”
Downplaying Israeli role
Cannes authorities appear keen to downplay Nuriel’s role.
In a tweet from its official account on Tuesday, the city stated that several security audits were carried out by the Cannes Film Festival itself.
“As for the city of Cannes, it did undertake an anti-terrorist initiative in October 2015 with the assistance of international experts, one of them an Israeli, in order to permanently reinforce security in the whole city,” the statement added.
But not all city officials seem to be telling exactly the same story either about the date Nuriel became involved or the prominence of the Israeli general’s role.
The newspaper Le Monde reported on 10 May that it was told by Pierre Boutillon, deputy director of the Cannes police force, that “the day after” the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, “the city hall called on a foreign security firm to carry out an audit on the festival.”
“From this mission, headed by a former Israeli reserve general, Nitzan Nuriel, came the proposal to organize a simulated attack,” Le Monde reported.
One possible reason that Cannes might not be so keen on boasting about Nuriel’s role is that the simulated attack, which was staged in April, turned into an embarrassment for the city.
Video of the exercise, featuring masked security forces and fake terrorists fighting a bomb and gun battle in the middle of the city, circulated online and was played on television.
It did anything but reassure potential festival-goers, as The Hollywood Reporter reported in an article headlined, “Cannes faces backlash over chilling terrorist simulation video.”
“I only found out we might be in danger when I saw that video – I wasn’t thinking about it until then,” Yuhka Matoi, an executive from Japan’s Tokyo Broadcasting System, told the publication. “Maybe I’ll stay away from the red carpet [this year].”
The Hollywood Reporter added that many attendees “question the tactic of carrying out the security test in public, with cameras running, questioning whether the exercise was more about PR than safety.”
It cannot have helped the festival’s image when The Daily Mail, one of the world’s most widely read publications, ran with the headline: “Cannes terror attack drills leave attendees terrified.”
Nitzan Nuriel: human rights abuser
Nitzan Nuriel has been keen to promote his role in Cannes – however big or small it is.
He served as director of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Israeli prime minister’s office from 2007 to 2012, a period spanning the terms of Ehud Olmert and the current incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.
Nuriel is also an associate at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, an Israeli think tank with close ties to the military and intelligence establishment.
One of the institute’s revenue streams is selling “consulting and training” to foreign governments and corporations, provided by the “most senior veterans of the Israeli intelligence and security establishments.”
Simulations, perhaps like the one in Cannes, are among the off-the-shelf “solutions” the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism sells.
But above all, what it is sells is experience: experience in violating human rights. And of that, Nuriel is a prime example.
His official biography reveals that he held command positions within the military occupation that has for decades ruled over millions of Palestinians denying them the most basic rights and facilitating the theft of their land for illegal settlements.
In 1994 he was appointed commander of a brigade in the West Bank and in 1997 he became deputy commander of the Gaza Strip division. He was also a deputy division commander during Israel’s devastating 2006 invasion of Lebanon.
His willingness to use brutality to subdue Palestinians was demonstrated in a case dating back almost 30 years.
In this position he gave orders to have Palestinian detainees beaten as a punitive measure.
The order was recorded and became part of the evidence in a trial against soldiers who obeyed the order and perpetrated these crimes in practice. The soldiers were exonerated by the court and Nuriel was promoted.
Lack of foresight
For all his “expertise,” Nuriel gets basic things wrong.
Last October, at the beginning of a period of escalated violent confrontations between Palestinians, on the one hand, and Israeli soldiers and settlers, on the other, Nuriel made this prediction: “It’s a matter of days until this stops… This has no goal. It will be forgotten.”
But contrary to Nuriel’s assessment, the heightened violence continued for more than six months, claiming more than 200 Palestinian and about 30 Israeli lives.
And while Nuriel could not conceive of what would motivate Palestinians, senior Israeli army officers conceded in January that young Palestinians accused of knife attacks, primarly against soldiers at checkpoints, “wanted to attack symbols of the Israeli occupation.”
There is no good reason why Cannes or any other city should hire Nuriel or his colleagues, unless they consider rewarding human rights abusers to be a worthwhile use of public money.
Nuriel’s blunders, including his eagerness to boast about his role to the press – instead of letting French officials take the lead – is probably one reason Cannes is now distancing itself from him.
There is another very good reason to downplay the role of an Israeli general in a major international event, though no French official is luckily to admit it: associating your brand with the blood-soaked record of the Israeli army is toxic, and probably not very good for security.
Dena Shunra provided research and translation.
After publication of this article, Marie Junk, press officer at Cannes city hall, sent the following statement by email to The Electronic Intifada. It has been translated from French.
The statement underscores the extent to which the city is now seeking to distance itself from Israeli Brigadier-General Nitzan Nuriel and to minimize his prior role.
In reply to your question, I confirm that the security of the city of Cannes is under the exclusive control of the interior ministry and of its local representatives, in coordination with the local authorities, the mayor of Cannes and the municipal police. It is for this purpose that Minister of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve is in regular contact with the mayor to coordinate security forces and resources.
Therefore, Mr. [Nitzan] Nuriel has no role nor any responsibility in the security of Cannes.
In October 2015, following lethal floods that affected the city, the Cannes city hall undertook a major plan to secure its territory, residents and visitors against major risks (flooding, fire, terrorism, earthquakes) in order to protect the attractiveness that makes Cannes the number one destination in France for international conventions.
For this purpose, a number of analyses were undertaken by French and international experts qualified by their experience and mastery of their subjects and presented to the media.
In this context, in November 2015, the Cannes city hall ordered an audit, carried out in December 2015, in order to optimize year-round the activities of its services to secure property, people, data, equipment and public buildings. The city’s initiative is part of a global approach to prevention and management of major risks, made necessary as much by the threat of terrorism as by the effects of climate change.