France’s Israel lobby appears to hold a veto over who can run as a parliamentary candidate on the ticket of incoming President Emmanuel Macron’s party.
French media reported on Friday that Macron’s En Marche! movement had dropped one of its candidates for National Assembly elections in June.
This came after the French Israel lobby groups LICRA and CRIF demanded that the candidate, television producer Christian Gerin, be dumped for making what they alleged were anti-Semitic tweets and for supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
One of Gerin’s tweets expressed support for BDS.
Another in late February called for the “separation of CRIF and state.”
CRIF is a Jewish communal organization as well as a major Israel lobby group. Gerin’s tweet referenced CRIF’s annual gala the same night.
“This is anti-Semitic because behind the term ‘CRIF,’ it’s ‘Jews’ that is the subtext,” CRIF’s president Francis Kalifat told the newspaper Le Parisien.
But there’s no denying that CRIF functions in France much as AIPAC does in the United States – as the main lobby for Israel and its aims.
As leading newspaper Le Figaro noted in February, CRIF’s annual dinner has taken on ever greater significance in French politics in recent years, and this year it was attended by several candidates in the presidential election, including the winner.
Criticism of the outsize role that the CRIF dinner has taken on in French politics has been voiced by mainstream figures.
“CRIF no longer represents anyone and it does not function in a democratic way,” Phillippe Karsenty, deputy mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine and a well-known figure in the Jewish community, told Le Figaro.
“CRIF ceased to be the representative of Jews towards politicians, and became the representative of politicians to the Jews.” (Karsenty is notorious for falsely claiming that French television staged the footage of the killing in September 2000 in Gaza of the Palestinian boy Muhammad al-Durra.)
Writer Alain Finkielkraut has likened CRIF to a tribunal where “members of the French government appear before a communal prosecutor.”
In 2012, François Bayrou, a well-known centrist and former presidential candidate who this year endorsed Macron, refused an invitation to the CRIF dinner.
“I thought about it a lot over many years and I reached the conclusion that I should no longer participate in these communal gatherings,” Bayrou explained. “I think that France is one, that its citizens are first and foremost citizens before they are Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics or atheists.”
Bayrou was expressing a standard version of French republican secularism or laïcité.
The French AIPAC
Crucially, one of CRIF’s most vocal roles – as The Electronic Intifada has often reported – has been as the main advocate against the movement for Palestinian rights.
At CRIF’s podium last year, Valls vowed further crackdowns on BDS activists.
(In a 2013 tweet objected to by LICRA, Gerin called Valls “viscerally Zionist, racist and Islamophobic.”)
In 2015, Hollande used his speech to tar critics of Israel and its state ideology Zionism as anti-Semites.
In his last speech to CRIF as president in February, Hollande boasted that “France has fought the BDS movement with no weakness.”
He also claimed – based on his interpretation of a court decision that is currently being appealed in the European Court of Human Rights – that France is the only country to have outlawed calls for boycotts of Israeli goods.
Although Marine Le Pen has never been invited to a CRIF dinner, CRIF’s then president Roger Cukierman raised eyebrows in 2015 when he said that the leader of the notoriously anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist Front National was “personally beyond criticism.” Le Pen repaid the compliment with praise for Israel and attacks on the BDS movement.
Protecting its clout
Given the highly controversial role CRIF plays in French politics, it ought to be possible to criticize its political role without being accused of anti-Semitism.
And it is also easy to see why CRIF would want to tar critics as anti-Semites when it has an obvious interest in protecting its growing political clout.
The statement warned that the July 2016 truck attack that killed dozens of people in Nice should not be exploited politically by Israel and its supporters. The statement came in response to calls by some politicians who compared Palestinians to Islamic State and urged that France follow Israel as a model for fighting terrorism.
Even the head of LICRA has called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop telling Jews to leave Europe after such attacks.
But LICRA nonetheless demanded that Macron pull Gerin’s candidacy and said it may refer his tweets to prosecutors.
Not noted by LICRA is that Gerin has also tweeted apparent praise of Israel. In 2013, he wrote that the documentary The Gatekeepers, in which former Israeli intelligence chiefs criticize their country’s policies, “is a lesson in democracy that is to Israel’s credit.”
More candidates targeted
According to Le Parisien, CRIF and LICRA are now going after another of Macron’s parliamentary candidates, who they accuse of supporting BDS.
Tchamaha, a high school counselor, also allegedly called Israel an “outlaw state that disdains international law” and urged a boycott of Israeli products.
CRIF is reportedly investigating the opinions of more candidates in Macron’s party and promises to be “vigilant.”
The clear message France’s Israel lobby is sending the incoming president’s movement of political novices is that any criticism of Israel will be costly.
As for Macron, he already forcefully condemned BDS and vowed to continue Hollande’s policy of repression against Palestine solidarity activism.
The new president may have promised French voters a break with the old way of doing business, but when it comes to doing the bidding of Israel and its lobby, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.