'Parliamentary majority threatens the best of this country'

Diplomat in Paris warns that French pro-Israel voices are increasingly critical

Embassy spokesman Simon Seroussi writes in leaked cable that prominent journalists are attacking judicial reform, settler violence; French FM says no contact with Smotrich expected

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Demonstrators hold Israeli and French flags and placards reading 'French and All United Against Terrorism' during a gathering in front of the Israeli Embassy in Paris, France, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Francois Mori )
Demonstrators hold Israeli and French flags and placards reading 'French and All United Against Terrorism' during a gathering in front of the Israeli Embassy in Paris, France, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Francois Mori )

Israel’s embassy in Paris warned the Foreign Ministry that pro-Israel figures in France were publicly criticizing the Jewish state over the government’s judicial reform and settler violence in the West Bank.

In the leaked cable, first reported by the Hebrew-language Ynet news site on Tuesday, embassy spokesman Simon Seroussi wrote that “in recent week we have identified a worrying trend of French journalists, editors, academics, and commentators who are known as pro-Israel speaking critically, even very critically, about Israel.”

Seroussi pointed at a number of especially alarming examples in his missive.

In January, Alain Frachon, a former Jerusalem correspondent and chief editor at Le Monde, France’s leading center-left newspaper, compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Hungary’s Viktor Orban and former US president Donald Trump over their aversion to independent judges.

“All aspire to a form of illiberal democracy, they challenge the notion of the rule of law,” Frachon wrote.

In a February Les Echos article titled, “Toward Zionism’s suicide,” French Jewish writer and politician Jacques Attali wrote that “a new parliamentary majority is threatening to wipe out the best of this country and to condemn it to death politically and morally.”

Luc Debarochez, foreign editor at Le Point magazine and a reliable pro-Israel voice, blasted settler violence in an article last week.

French academic David Khalfa has also been outspoken against settler violence in interviews with La Croix and Le Figaro.  “In Huwara, in the West Bank, a line has clearly been crossed,” he said.

Seroussi described the trend as a long-term threat to Israel’s image within France.

It is not known who at the Foreign Ministry leaked the letter, but the fact that it was sent as an official cable, and not as an email, meant that it was blasted out to dozens, perhaps hundreds of people on the somewhat antiquated network.

Simon Seroussi, spokesman for Israel’s embassy in France (L), Magatte Seye, Senegal’s envoy to France, Ben Bourgel, Israel’s envoy to Senegal, and Anne-Sophie Sebban-Bécache, director of AJC Paris, speak at the Israel Back to Africa summit in Paris, May 31, 2022. (MFA)

Other voices within the Foreign Ministry were less alarmed, telling The Times of Israel that the authors Seroussi identified are left-of-center, and have been consistently critical of Netanyahu-led governments in the past.

No contact

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is expected to be in Paris Sunday to attend a memorial service for prominent right-wing Likud activist and Jewish Agency board member Jacques Kupfer, who passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2021.

In response to a question at a press conference, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said last Thursday that Paris had not been informed of the visit, and if Smotrich was in France, “no government contact would be expected.”

Smotrich will be visiting as a private citizen.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a conference in Jerusalem, February 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the US on Sunday, Smotrich told American investors he was sorry for calling to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara and pledged to “protect every innocent life, Jew or Arab,” as several hundred American Jews and Israeli ex-pats protested his appearance outside.

Smotrich spoke to some 150 leaders in the Israel Bonds organization at a private gala dinner, attempting to drum up continued support for Israel’s economy despite reports of investment money fleeing the country due to the upheaval around the judicial overhaul plan being pushed by Netanyahu’s government.

Netanyahu was in Paris in early February to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, who warned that without changes to his government’s far-reaching plans to overhaul the judicial system, “Paris should conclude that Israel has emerged from a common conception of democracy.”

Macron also pressed Netanyahu on rising violence between Israel and the Palestinians, urging Israel to avoid “any measures that could fuel the spiral of violence,” the palace said.

The French president also delivered a warning on Netanyahu’s attempts to widen the Abraham Accords. “If you continue what you are doing in Palestine, it will be difficult for Saudi Arabia to accept an agreement with you,” Macron said.

The prime minister said he must give something to his coalition in terms of settlements, but that it would be less than what Smotrich and fellow hard-right minister Itamar Ben Gvir desire.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report. 

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