Israel v. Emmanuel Macron — And Who's Next?
Israel has reacted sharply to the French president's criticism of the IDF continued bombing of civilians in Gaza. France is the first country to break with Western unanimity on Israel since October 7, which explains the virulence of the reaction.
PARIS — In the midst of the war in Gaza, Israeli leaders, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, took the time to denounce recent remarks made by French President Emmanuel Macron. It’s an unexpected controversy — less than three weeks ago, Macron was at Netanyahu's side in Jerusalem, to express France's solidarity against terrorism.
The French president had given an exclusive interview on Friday to the BBC, in which he shared his view that there is "no justification" for bombing and attacking civilians. "These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed," he declared. He added that there was “no reason for that and no legitimacy”, and urged Israel to stop, calling for it to comply with international humanitarian law. Thee only solution, he concluded, is a ceasefire.
It was these words that provoked the anger of Netanyahu, and even greater anger from his Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, who wondered how France could give Israel "lessons in morality" in the midst of a war.
Emmanuel Macron felt obliged to call Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Sunday to explain his remarks and reaffirm his support for Israel's right to defend itself.
Breaking the consensus
France has become the first G7 country to criticize the civilian deaths in Gaza directly, and to call for a genuine ceasefire. The United States has deplored civilian casualties in far more measured terms.
Macron made this statement the day after hosting a Paris humanitarian conference about the Middle East. On this occasion, he measured the scale of civilian casualties with the resentment provoked worldwide by Western silence in the face of images of distress from Gaza.
The French President thus uttered words that would have been unthinkable 48 hours earlier, and which broke the heavy-handed consensus of a West united around Israel since the shock of October 7, but visibly cut off from the emotions of the rest of the world.
French President Emmanuel Macron in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamín Netanyahu
Criticism of Israel will grow
Since the start of Israeli reprisals in Gaza, the leaders of the Jewish state have known that they were in a race against time. At some point, global reactions will be such that the United States will also push for a halt to hostilities.
This mini-crisis reveals the deep unease provoked by the type of war Israel has chosen to wage in Gaza.
Israel's fear, which helps explain its reaction to Macron's statement, is that France, by breaking ranks with the West, will bring other countries along into its criticism of the massive bombardments. By hitting back hard, Netanyahu rightly thinks that other Westerners will refrain. At least for a while.
In any case, this mini-crisis reveals the deep unease provoked by the type of war Israel has chosen to wage in Gaza, sparing no civilians, women or children.
The scale of the October 7 massacre does not authorize anything and everything, as Emmanuel Macron made clear in his interview, echoing a widely shared sentiment. Israel would make a serious mistake to ignore what the rest of the world is saying.
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