'Macron expressed his support for Israel’s war against Hamas'

Herzog: Macron told me he didn’t mean to accuse Israel of targeting civilians

French president changes line after attacking Israel’s bombing of ‘babies, ladies, old people’; president welcomes reversal, says comments ’caused much pain and upset in Israel’

President Isaac Herzog (R) meets visiting French President Emmanuel Macron at his residence in Jerusalem on October 24, 2023. (Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)
File: President Isaac Herzog (R) meets visiting French President Emmanuel Macron at his residence in Jerusalem on October 24, 2023. (Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday called President Isaac Herzog to clarify his position on the war in Gaza, appearing to engage in some damage control over highly critical comments he made about the Israeli war effort against Hamas on Friday.

Macron told the BBC there was “no justification” for Israel’s alleged bombing of “these babies, these ladies, these old people” and said “there is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So we do urge Israel to stop.” He also reiterated a call for a ceasefire in Gaza — which Israel has rejected as handing victory to the Hamas terror group.

According to Herzog’s office, Macron called him Sunday to make clear that he “does not and did not intend to accuse Israel of intentionally harming innocent civilians in the campaign against the terrorist organization Hamas.

“President Macron also emphasized that he unequivocally supports Israel’s right and duty to self-defense, and expressed his support for Israel’s war against Hamas,” the statement from the Israeli President’s Residence read.

“President Macron explained that his comments during the interview were made in reference to the humanitarian situation, which remains an important issue for him and many countries,” the statement said. Macron “reiterated to President Herzog his commitment to demanding the immediate release of the hostages, and noted he was working to help on this important issue.”

Herzog said Macron’s previous comments “caused much pain and upset in Israel,” and welcomed the French leader’s clarifications.

File: French President Emmanuel Macron arrives at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on October 24, 2023, as he visits Israel amid the war against Hamas. (Photo by Christophe Ena / POOL / AFP)

“The State of Israel and the IDF continue to act in a humanitarian manner and in accordance with international law,” Herzog was quoted as telling Macron, adding that Israel was taking “all possible measures to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians” and casting the blame for civilian casualties on Hamas.

Macron is among Western leaders who visited Israel in a show of solidarity after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, in which the terror group killed some 1,200 people, the majority of them civilians, and took at least 240 hostages. During his trip to Israel, Macron called for the international coalition against the Islamic State terror group to be expanded to also fight Hamas.

However, in recent days, he spoke out against the effects of Israel’s ongoing operation to eliminate Hamas from Gaza, which the IDF is conducting from the air and on the ground. At an international peace forum in Paris over the weekend, he said that while France shares Israel’s “willingness to get rid of terrorism,” he disagreed that the best way for Israel to “protect [itself] is having a large bombing of Gaza.”

France already sought to mitigate the controversy on Saturday, after receiving furious criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.

A French diplomatic source told media Saturday night that Macron had “never implied and does not think that Israeli forces are deliberately targeting civilians. He has been consistently qualifying Hamas’s use of hostages or civilian population as unacceptable blackmail.”

The source also reiterated Macron’s condemnation of the October 7 Hamas attack, while also asserting his wish that more be done to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about the Israel-Hamas war during a press conference on November 11, 2023. (YouTube screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a press conference Saturday evening, Netanyahu said the French president had “made a serious mistake, factually and morally,” in his allegations against Israel.

“It’s Hamas preventing the evacuation of civilians, not Israel. Israel tells them to leave,” Netanyahu said, accusing Hamas of firing on a humanitarian corridor set up for northern Gazans to evacuate and using civilians as human shields.

“It’s not Israel that locates itself in hospitals, in schools, in UNRWA and UN facilities — it’s Hamas. Therefore, it is not Israel but Hamas that is responsible for harm to civilians,” he argued.

“And I say to the president of France and our other friends — it will reach you too,” Netanyahu continued. “Immunity must not be given to terrorists who carry out this double war crime. We are truly doing everything to minimize harm to civilians or noncombatants, but we will not give Hamas the license to murder our citizens without our response.

“We can do without the moral preaching,” he added.

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Nov. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

On Sunday morning, the French president also published a letter on the Le Parisien news website in which he urged his nation to combat “the unbearable resurgence of unbridled antisemitism.”

“In one month, more than a thousand antisemitic acts were committed on our soil. Three times more acts of hatred against our Jewish compatriots in a few weeks than during the whole of last year,” he wrote.

“Our Jewish compatriots therefore experience legitimate anguish. Fear to take their children to school. Fear of going home alone. Fear to the point of hiding their name to protect themselves,” Macron added. “A France where our fellow Jewish citizens are afraid is not France. A France where French people are afraid because of their religion or their origin is not France.”

On November 5, France’s interior minister said that more than 1,040 antisemitic incidents had been reported in France since October 7 and that 486 people had been arrested, among them 102 foreign citizens.

In his letter, Macron hailed police actions aimed at countering the epidemic and bringing antisemitism “back to where it belongs: in court and behind bars. No tolerance for the intolerable.”

He noted the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7 and reiterated once more that he backs Israel’s right to defend itself without qualification. At the same time, he urged political dialogue and building a “humanitarian coalition” that will facilitate a “humanitarian truce leading to a ceasefire.”

“We want justice, peace and security for the people of Israel, for the Palestinian people and for the states of the region,” he concluded.

A major march was under way in Paris Sunday against rising antisemitism.

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