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Macron's fake outrage and complicity in the oppression of Palestinians

The French president is willing to stand up to Israeli forces, but only when French domain is at stake
French President Emmanuel Macron asks Israeli police to leave the Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem on 22 January (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s “scene” in Jerusalem during a visit in January, as he shouted at Israeli soldiers who were attempting to enter a French Roman Catholic church, has been described as that of a spoiled leader having a tantrum

While this might describe some of his behaviour, in reality, the scene perfectly demonstrates something more important about the power relations between France, Israel and Palestine.

Do not be fooled: he was not coming to the rescue of the downtrodden Palestinians. This was not outrage at their treatment at the hands of the Israeli state, nor an act of international solidarity. Much like Jacques Chirac before him, Macron was defending the remnants of empire, and the Church of Saint Anne, which continues to be French domain.

Harassment and arrogance

The scene served as a reminder that while land, homes, liberties and lives are being stolen every day by the state of Israel - as it violates international law by expropriating Palestinian land - the status and entitlement of the French state in the region continues to be honoured.

Similarly, Macron, who was on an official visit in which he restated France’s close and special relationship with Israel, demonstrated that he was prepared to defend his rights - and those of France - to this church remaining free of Israeli military forces, while selling down the river the rights of Palestinians to their land.  

France continues to be a proud partner in supporting the colonisation of Palestine

He reminded any doubters that, like all other Western leaders, he believes the harassment and arrogance of Israeli soldiers should be reserved only for Palestinians and their allies. The longstanding pro-Israel stance of the Elysee confirms this. 

France continues to be a proud partner in supporting the colonisation of Palestine. It supported the creation of Israel, its military annexation of more Palestinian lands than those already transferred to it by the UN, and even the development of its atomic programme.

In exchange, it counted on a loyal ally in the region. While the relationship has become somewhat more distant since the late 1950s, Macron and his predecessors have maintained their support for Israel, despite its continued murder, theft and exploitation of the Palestinian people. 

Charade of dignity

France also expects Israel to honour such arrangements as the Fischer-Chauvel Agreement of 1948, which preserves French institutions in the newly established state of Israel, such as the Church of Saint Anne. A symbolic recognition of its power in the region is, after all, the least France can expect.

The media drew similarities between Macron’s reaction and that of Chirac in the mid-1990s during a visit to the Old City. In a verbal confrontation after Israeli soldiers aggressively shoved journalists, Palestinians and members of the visiting party, the former president shouted: “This is not a method, this is a provocation.” 

Former French President Jacques Chirac pushes an Israeli security officer as he protests tight security in Jerusalem in 1996 (AFP)
Former French President Jacques Chirac pushes an Israeli security officer as he protests tight security in Jerusalem in 1996 (AFP)

While Chirac had at least paid lip-service to Palestinian rights - despite doing precious little to enforce them - Macron, while trying to assert France’s continued imperial relevance in the region, has done even less to challenge Israel’s continued colonial expansion.

Perhaps the Israeli state doesn’t wish to follow the charade of what French leaders present it to be: reasonable, dignified and aiming to keep the peace.

Perhaps Israeli soldiers, border guards and police officers are so used to being sent out to bully, demean, repress and reinforce the power of the Israeli state, that they just acted out of force of habit. 

More likely, the scene helped all involved. Macron comes across as proudly independent, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows he is not afraid of Western leaders, and the status quo remains firmly in place.

Back in 1996, Netanyahu commented that the Chirac affair only demonstrated the perfectionism of Israel’s military forces.

Annexing Palestinian land

Israel continues to expand and strengthen its illegal settlements, bulldoze occupied lands, starve and murder Palestinians trapped in Gaza, illegally occupy the West Bank, Jerusalem and Golan Heights, and treat its Palestinian citizens as second-class. Both leading contenders in the upcoming elections have bragged about their plans to annex more Palestinian land. Macron did not speak out against that, when it really counted.

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One needs only to look at the current state of repression in France against pro-Palestine activities to see the level of complicity of the French state. The legal merging of anti-Zionism and antisemitism has served only to silence and censor activists and anti-imperialist campaigners. 

Macron himself stated that anti-Zionism is “one of the current forms of antisemitism”. This is all the more injurious when it comes from the same leader who paid tribute to famous French Nazi collaborator Philippe Petain.

When Macron shouts in Palestine that “everybody knows the rules”, it is hard not to laugh. 

Yes, everyone knows the rules. And everyone also knows that when it comes to Palestinians - or to people of colour, Muslims and migrants in France, for that matter - the rules of the game are clear: deprive them of their liberties, oppress them at will, and build the glory of the republic on their backs.  

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Malia Bouattia
Malia Bouattia is an activist, the former president of the National Union of Students, co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network and presenter/panelist on British Muslim TV's Women Like Us.