France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has canceled a scheduled trip to Israel next month, citing domestic obligations, his office said on Wednesday.
Philippe, who had also planned a trip to Ramallah in the West Bank, had been expected to visit Jerusalem on June 1 to open the France-Israel Season of Culture together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry also confirmed the cancellation, saying it was due to “internal French reasons.”
The culture festival is due to last through November and to focus on the themes of innovation, creativity and youth.
Some 400 events across a wide range of disciplines — from the arts to education, economics and sciences — have been planned for 50 French towns and around 20 Israeli ones.
In Israel, the sponsors include the Prime Minister’s Office and a number of ministries, including the Ministry for Strategic Affairs which, under its current minister, Gilad Erdan — who is also public security minister — is focused on battling the worldwide Boycott, Divest, Sanctions campaign against Israel.
Aides to Philippe pointed to expected strikes in France in early June and the government’s reform agenda, as well as Philippe’s decision to scratch a trip to Mali in April.
But the decision comes at a particularly tense time in the Middle East with France working to maintain the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which is staunchly opposed by Netanyahu, and with weeks of violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops on the Gaza border in which more than 100 Palestinians have been killed as they approached the border fence — many of them members of the terror group Hamas, according to the group itself.
Israel says the demonstrations, originally claimed to be nonviolent, are being orchestrated by Hamas, whose aim is to destroy Israel, as cover for attempted attacks and breaches of the border fence.
Earlier this month, French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard joined dozens of other film-industry professionals from France who vowed to boycott an event celebrating Israeli cinema.
Godard, a pioneer of the 1960s New Wave cinema and an avowed Marxist who has fought accusations of anti-Semitism, added his name to a May 4 petition calling for a boycott of the France-Israel Season event by the Institut Francais.
The French branch of the Boycott Divest and Sanctions campaign against Israel has signed up thousands of people to a petition saying such a state to state collaboration is unacceptable “in a context where international law in the Palestinian territories has never been so violated” and in which settlement expansion was continuing, the US embassy had been transferred to Jerusalem and young people in Gaza were being “murdered by premeditation.”
The petition says, “We cannot submit to normalization with a colonial regime flouting human rights and the international conventions signed by France.”
French BDS has also been recruiting French unions to its cause, among them the large General Confedation of Labour, which earlier this month condemned what it called “the massacre of the Palestinian population” by the Israeli army during violent clashes on the Israel-Gaza border.
Nine days ago, French President Emmanuel Macron also condemned “the violence,” but without blaming any particular party, and said in a statement that he would be speaking to “all the actors in the region” in the coming days.
The French newspaper Le Figaro reported that Philippe was not now planning to visit Israel “in the short term.”