Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi summoned the French ambassador to Israel for a dressing down on Thursday over remarks made by his country’s foreign minister, after the latter accused Israel of sliding toward apartheid.
The diplomatic spate came in the wake of an 11-day clash between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip. As Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired thousands of rocket at Israeli cities and communities, Israel responded with intense airstrikes on terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.
Earlier this week French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Israel was at risk of “long-lasting apartheid” if a Palestinian state is not established.
Le Drian was referring to Palestinians but also to violent riots by Arab Israelis that erupted in multiple cities and towns amid the recent fighting in Gaza.
According to a statement from the Foreign Ministry, Ashkenazi told the French ambassador, Eric Danon, that Le Drian’s comments were “unacceptable, unfounded and far from reality and Israel completely rejects them.
“Israel expects its friends to not make comments in an irresponsible manner that gives a boost to extremist entities and to anti-Israel activities,” Ashkenazi told the ambassador.
Ashkenazi also expressed concern at a recent rise in antisemitic incidents in France and stressed that he expects the French leadership to condemn the incidents as well as take action to stop them.
“Israel is a law-abiding democratic state and I strongly protest any attempt to challenge this fact and the foundations of the State of Israel,” Ashkenazi said in the statement.
“France demonstratively ignored all preventive measures taken by Israel to prevent the deterioration [into conflict], and the foreign minister’s remarks give, in effect, a reward to extremists and terrorist organizations, led by the Hamas terrorist organization.”
It is not the first time that a French ambassador has faced the wrath of the Foreign Ministry over a French diplomat accusing Israel of apartheid.
In April 2019, then-ambassador Hélène Le Gal was summoned to the ministry after France’s outgoing ambassador to the US, Gérard Araud, said in an interview with The Atlantic that Israel was “an apartheid state.”
Thursday’s formal diplomatic telling-off came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also denounced Le Drian.
Speaking at an event in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu expressed “a strong protest against the French government and the outrageous comments of the French foreign minister on television.”
He rejected Le Drian’s comments as “an insolent, false claim that has no basis. In the State of Israel, all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their ethnicity. Israel is a beacon of democracy and human rights in our region… We will not suffer any hypocritical and false moral rebukes on this matter.”
In the Sunday interview, Le Drian said the “risk of apartheid is high” if Israel were to continue to act “according to a single-state logic,” and if it were to maintain the status quo.
“Even the status quo produces that,” he said.
The term apartheid refers to the white supremacist oppression of blacks in South Africa from 1948 to 1991.
Israel has long adamantly denied apartheid accusations, saying its Arab minority enjoys full civil rights, as well as the term “occupation” to describe its activities in the West Bank and Gaza. It views Gaza, from which it withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005, as a hostile entity ruled by the Islamist terror group Hamas, and it considers the West Bank to be disputed territory subject to peace negotiations — which collapsed more than a decade ago.
The past weeks saw escalating ethnic tensions between Jews and Arabs inside Israeli cities alongside the armed conflict with Gaza terror groups. Protests by Arab Israelis against Israeli policies in Jerusalem and Gaza exploded into violent mob attacks. Jewish extremists struck back with revenge attacks.
Two people, one Arab and one Jewish, were killed in separate incidents in the city of Lod, and dozens were injured in clashes across the country, many of them seriously.