Macron complained to Netanyahu after Likud minister publicly backed Marine Le Pen

Comments by Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli further strain relations between two countries; PM claims he told cabinet to not make remarks on French election

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) sits with Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, June 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) sits with Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, June 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

French President Emmanuel Macron protested to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call last week after Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli spoke in support of Macron’s rival in the recent elections, far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, a French official told The Times of Israel.

The official confirmed earlier reporting by the Walla news outlet, which noted that Netanyahu told Macron he had instructed his ministers to not make public remarks regarding France’s parliamentary elections.

The day before the July 3 call, Chikli indicated in an interview that Israeli leadership would be happy to see Le Pen eventually become president of France, remarks the French viewed as an intervention in their internal politics.

Speaking to Kan public news, Chikli noted Le Pen’s support for Israel and her recent participation in a march against antisemitism, which Macron did not attend. Chikli’s ministry is tasked with combating antisemitism.

“It is excellent for Israel that she will be the president of France, with 10 exclamation marks,” he said. Asked whether his party leader, Netanyahu, agrees, Chikli said: “I think I and Netanyahu are of the same opinion.”

It was not clear why Chikli was discussing a Le Pen presidency, even with the prospect at the time of a National Rally victory in the parliamentary election (the party and its allies eventually came in a disappointing third after leading opinion polls). Macron has a mandate until 2027 and said he would not step down before the end of his term. Le Pen is also not the leader of the National Rally party, that position being held by Jordan Bardella, who would have possibly become prime minister if NR had outright won in the second round of elections held Sunday.

In May, Chikli attended a conference of right-wing parties in Europe where he met Le Pen, took a selfie with her and praised her on X.

In April, Chikli waded into US politics as well, saying he’d vote for Donald Trump in the upcoming US presidential election if he could. “The US is not projecting strength under [Joe Biden’s] leadership, and it’s harming Israel and other countries,” Chikli told Kan radio.

Under Le Pen, the National Rally has attempted to rehabilitate the public image it had under the antisemitic and xenophobic party founder, Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father. Focusing on limiting immigration and cracking down on radical Islam, Marine Le Pen has vowed to be French Jews’ “shield” against antisemitism even as she asked them to make “sacrifices” in the fight against radical Islam. One sacrifice she asked for was to forgo the wearing of traditional head coverings such as kippot in public, which she views as collateral damage in her fight to ban Muslim religious symbols.

Some critics of National Rally believe the party panders to antisemites, though others dispute this.

French President Emmanuel Macron reviews troops that will take part in the July 14th Bastille Day parade in Paris on July 2, 2024. (Aurelien Morissard/Pool/AFP)

Chikli’s comments appear to have further exacerbated strains in Israeli-French relations. While Macron visited Israel in a show of solidarity in the wake of the Hamas October 7 onslaught — which saw terrorists kill some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnap 251 —the French premier has grown more critical in light of the civilian casualties and destruction in Gaza, calling last month for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, without mentioning the release of hostages held by Hamas as a precondition.

France’s criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war and the high civilian casualty led the country to ban Israeli weapon companies from participating in an arms show near Paris last month, though a court later overturned the move.

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