Israel’s massacre of dozens of Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip last Monday is sharpening the divide between the French public and the country’s staunchly pro-Israel leaders.
Even before the latest massacre, one of France’s international giants, film director Jean-Luc Godard, had joined dozens of cultural figures saying they would refuse to take part in French government “cultural” activities designed to promote Israel.
Since Monday, people have demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinians all over the country, including thousands in the streets of Paris.
The CGT, a major labor federation, condemned Israel for committing a “crime against humanity,” and urged its members to intensify their solidarity with Palestinians.
In an online poll run by Le Journal du Dimanche this week, 66 percent of the 33,500 people who took part agreed that France should recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv.
Speaking in the National Assembly on Wednesday, Eric Coquerel, a lawmaker for the party, said Israel had been allowed to violate international law with impunity for far too long.
“Why has France not already withdrawn its ambassador from Israel?” Coquerel asked Prime Minister Édouard Philippe.
France has refused to take any such steps, but the government is clearly feeling pressure to go beyond the typical bland statements of “concern” and calls for “restraint” that have characterized responses from the European Union and its members since Israel began its weekly massacres of protesters in Gaza on 30 March.
President Emmanuel Macron on Monday finally “condemned the violence of the Israeli armed forces against the demonstrations,” according to his office.
These rhetorical shifts are, however, unlikely to assuage outrage that France is still refusing to take any action to hold Israel accountable.
Macron notably failed even to endorse the calls from other EU states for an investigation into the slaughter in Gaza.
“Tell the truth”
In light of France’s position, many people on social media shared a 2014 article by Dominique de Villepin, a center-right former prime minister and foreign minister who gained international stature when he led France’s opposition to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
He had criticized France’s weak response to Israel’s invasion of Gaza that year.
Writing in Le Figaro, de Villepin stated that it was France’s duty to “raise its voice against the massacre perpetrated in Gaza.”
He condemned France’s mere calls for “restraint” while “children are being killed” as well as one-sided support for Israel.
“Let’s have the courage to tell the truth: there is nothing in international law or in the right to security that implies a right to military occupation, even less a right to carry out massacres,” de Villepin stated.
With bluntness rare for a mainstream French politician, de Villepin said that Israel’s sole reliance on military brutality and its utter disregard for the rights and interests of Palestinians “condemns Israel, bit by bit, to becoming a segregationist, militarist and authoritarian state.”
“This is the spiral of apartheid South Africa before Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, made up of violent repression, iniquity and humiliating bantustans,” de Villepin added. “It is the spiral of French Algeria.”
This time around, most of the French center right has remained silent, but Israel has predictably found support from the far right.
Louis Aliot, a member of parliament from the historically anti-Semitic Front National, and the partner of its leader Marine le Pen, declared that in committing the massacre in Gaza, “the Israelis were defending their border.”
Despite the growing outrage, France is pressing ahead with the Saison France-Israël – or France-Israel Season – a propaganda campaign backed by both governments to whitewash Israel on the 70th anniversary of the start of the Nakba – the ongoing expulsion and exclusion of the Palestinian people from their homeland in order to establish a discriminatory and apartheid “Jewish state.”
On Wednesday, two days after Gaza’s bloodiest day in years, France’s ambassador in Tel Aviv insisted that the France-Israel Season would be launched in two weeks as planned:
Left-wing lawmakers are amplifying calls for the cancellation of the festival.
Earlier this month, 80 French artists, including Jean-Luc Godard, published an open letter explaining why they would refuse to take part in the France-Israel Season.
The artists say that “under the cover of promoting dialogue and exchange,” the France-Israel Season is “really a means put in place by the Israeli government to burnish the image of the state of Israel that is being tarnished each day by its ever harsher policies towards the Palestinians.”
Solidarity across France
At the Cannes Film Festival this week, attendees observed a minute of silence at the Palestine pavilion in solidarity with victims of the Israeli massacre.
Those in attendance included Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir, actor Benicio del Toro and several other film festival jury members.
French-Lebanese actor Manal Issa made headlines around the world by holding up a sign on the Cannes red carpet stating “Stop the attack on Gaza.”
Meanwhile, activists held rallies in solidarity with Palestinians in towns all over France: