It’s not just the ambassador – it’s France
Former Ambassador to Israel Gérard Araud learned nothing about the complexity of Israel's situation during his three years in Tel Aviv.
Gérard Araud served as France’s ambassador to Israel for three years, during which he could have gained an appreciation for the complexity of Israel’s situation and the existential challenges it faces, or more precisely – the threats. At the time, Israel was experiencing the end of the Second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War. Two decades earlier, during the First Lebanon War, Araud had been the head secretary of his nation’s embassy in Tel Aviv. Both these postings could have opened his eyes, had he been a fair, curious, or thinking person.
But Araud perfectly represents the arrogant patronage of French and European diplomacy. He and those like him in Paris and in foreign ministries in London, Berlin, Madrid, and Stockholm are still certain that their words shape the world, as they did in the era of European colonialism. So they allow themselves to treat Israel like “that crappy little country,” as one of Araud’s colleagues – the former French ambassador to Britain – phrased it. Israel is their punching bag, like the Jews used to be. And the more complicated the world becomes, the harder they hit.
When Araud began his term as ambassador to Israel, Boaz Bismuth (then the Israel Hayom correspondent in France and now editor-in-chief) heard Araud make some very undiplomatic remarks about the country to which he had been deployed as a senior diplomat. He called Israel “paranoid” and then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a “boor.” The comments were made at a cocktail party, however, and not in any official capacity. Araud and the French Foreign Ministry did everything they could to prevent them from going public. But when they did, it wasn’t Araud who was punished for what he said – it was Bismuth, who had refused to buckle to pressure to keep the comments under wraps.
Araud hasn’t learned his lesson. And why should he? Any self-respecting government would have called the ambassador in for a dressing-down, frozen his appointment to Israel, recalled him and sent him to finish his diplomatic career in tougher locales. But when it comes to Israel, Paris – like the rest of the European capitals – abides by different rules. Attacks on Israel are considered obvious, natural, desirable, and guarantee professional advancement for diplomats. The more, the better.
So after calling Israel “paranoid” in a private conversation, Araud went on the record in an official interview as ambassador and accused the Israelis of having an “anti-French” mental disorder. This, too, was not grounds for the psychologist to be recalled. When he finally finished his time in Tel Aviv, Araud was kicked up the ladder and appointed to one of the top posts in the French Foreign Ministry, after which he was named France’s ambassador to the U.N. From there, he was given the most prestigious job of all – representing his country in Washington. Now, as a parting gift, he is once again beating up on Israel, calling it an “apartheid state.” This astonishing courage might see him become a minister in President Macron’s cabinet.
But Araud isn’t the problem. He is merely a symptom of the anti-Israeli – not to say anti-Semitic – mental disorder that afflicts French and European diplomats. The European envoys aren’t willing to forgive Israel, which against all the odds is not only not disappearing from the maps but is also flourishing. That disorder, which stems from primal hatred, is what lies beneath the rigid professional approach of French and European diplomacy on everything having to do with the Middle East, and makes Europe the biggest obstacle to peace in our region.
Their grudge against Israel blinds most European diplomats to the changes and developments in the Middle East and makes them the biggest supporters of Israel’s enemies, from the PLO to the ayatollahs in Iran. There is not the slightest realistic element in this obsessive, hostile approach. French diplomacy needs to address its anti-Israel “disorder” as a matter of urgency.