The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has, to an extent, changed his country's foreign policy towards Israel, making it more favourable. This is part and parcel of Macron's neoliberal, pro-American, Atlanticist bent, a tendency which has even seen him snuggle up to hard-right US President Donald Trump.
Macron's embrace of Israel has been so complete that it has led to protests in France. After Israel's massacres of Palestinians in Gaza over the past couple of months, thousands marched in the streets of Paris; well-known French cultural figures, including film director Jean-Luc Godard, declared a boycott of their government's activities designed to promote Israel. Among these is the Saison France-Israel (France-Israel Season), which started this month.
The French president's policies also seem to be too pro-Israel for some on the centre-right. During last month's revolt against Macron, some Twitter users in France shared a 2014 article by former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin in which he criticised Israel's then ongoing invasion of Gaza. Israel's brutality and utter disregard for the basic human rights of the Palestinians, he wrote, "Condemns Israel, bit by bit, to becoming a segregationist, militarist and authoritarian state."
De Villepin went on to describe the situation as akin to "the spiral of apartheid South Africa before Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, made up of violent repression, iniquity and humiliating Bantustans… It is the spiral of French Algeria."
Macron's utterly anti-Palestinian posture is something of a contrast to previous French administrations. It is quite different to when, back in 2003, Israel's then Prime Minister – the notorious war criminal Ariel Sharon – refused to meet de Villepin as he was perceived by the Israeli leader to be insufficiently pro-Israel. What prompted this? During his trip to occupied Palestine, de Villepin had committed to meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat at a time when Israel and its US ally were boycotting the veteran freedom fighter, accusing him of supporting and leading the second intifada, the popular uprising raging against Israel's military occupation.
However, Macron's shift is not entirely out of character with the history of French foreign policy. After all, France once ruled over one of the world's most brutal empires, perhaps second only to the British Empire in its cruelty towards indigenous peoples.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the policy of the French government was very much to support Israel. Both regimes had common regional enemies, not least the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. France and Britain conspired with the Israelis to engineer an invasion of Egypt in 1956, the so-called Suez Crisis.
In Andrew and Leslie Cockburn's stupendous book on the covert alliance of US and Israeli military and intelligence agencies, Dangerous Liaison, they recount one story which illustrates the depth of the France-Israel imperialist alliance of the time. In 1958, an aircraft carrying an Israeli government arms dealer made an emergency landing in Algeria who was questioned by a French official. When asked what he was carrying in the plane, instead of giving a cover story Leo Gardner was totally open about the arms he was in the process of shipping to the grizzly Dominican Republic dictatorship of General Rafael Trujillo. He also provided some startling background to his smuggling record.
"In 1947 I smuggled American planes to Israel [sic – Palestine]," Gardner explained. "In 1948 I flew arms from Czechoslovakia to Israel, and I bombed Cairo. In 1953 I flew Spitfires from Israel to Italy. In 1956 I flew arms from France to Israel."
Gardner's arms deal was supposed to have been cleared with the French authorities by a contact of Shimon Peres in Paris. Peres was then the director-general of the Israeli Defence Ministry. Things were eventually smoothed over; it turned out that Peres's contact had just forgotten to pass the word on to Algiers that the Israeli plane was cleared for transit.
In helping such a brutal Latin American dictatorship to repress its own people, it seems that Peres was even going over the heads of the Foreign Ministry diplomats who, the Cockburns explain, "thought it bad for Israel's image" to be selling weapons to Trujillo as well as the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua. Israel's links to bloody repression in the latter would be longstanding; it later armed the death squads of the contrarrevolución, the notorious Contras.
Peres was always the lackey of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's Prime Minister and Defence Minister at that time. He ensured that Ben-Gurion's hawkish agenda was followed, and justified deals like that with Trujillo thus: "By not selling an Uzi to a certain country, we are not implementing an embargo against that country, but against ourselves. It is absolute nonsense to embargo ourselves on an item that can be acquired elsewhere." Peres and Israel would later apply this mercenary principle to their links with the white supremacist regime in South Africa.
The covert military alliance between France and Israel which existed in those days was not run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but by Ben-Gurion and his faithful lieutenants such as Peres. The Cockburns explain that Peres even directed "a massive campaign of what amounted to covert manipulation" to build support for the alliance in French society. He was said to have "haunted the corridors of power" with his people "infiltrating the French army at all levels." As part of this, the Israelis even subsidised "the newspaper of the governing French Socialist Party."
Hence, Macron's pro-Israel intervention is not without precedent. Nevertheless, his policies should have been left in the dustbin of history, along with France's imperial past.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.