In the 19th century, it was obvious that most of the French left was in the vanguard of the fight against antisemitism. And most French Jews were on the left. Even if part of the Left was, in its time, like the Right, anti-Semitic, France, the Left and the Jewish people seemed to have fundamental affinities: the French, like the Jews and the people of the Left, shared a universalist conception of their values; they both thought that what was good for them was good for the world; in fact, all three of them had brought to the world concepts of universal scope: monotheism, human rights, socialism. Concepts whose ideological and practical coherence has been discussed at length, for at least two centuries.
When the State of Israel appeared, it did not change this equation: few French Jews settled there, (except those from Morocco, making Israel one of the most French-speaking countries in the world); most French Jews were happy in France; a French Jew was naturally left-wing, pro-Israeli, without claiming to be a Zionist, reserving this word for those who decided to settle there; for its part, the French left remained at the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism, supporting by all means the creation and defence of the Israeli state. This was not difficult: Israel was then in the vanguard of social democratic regimes, at the forefront of major social reforms, ensuring free health and education for all.
Everything started to change in 1967, when, attacked by Arab armies, and in self-defence, the Israeli army occupied not only the Old City of Jerusalem, but also the territories previously managed by the Jordanians or the Egyptians, and on which the Jordanians had prevented the Palestinians from creating a state in 1948. Many in Israel and elsewhere argued for the immediate return of these territories to their previous occupants; this did not happen.
It was already clear that Israel would only be truly at peace when there was a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state alongside it, recognising Israel and recognised by it. Many Israeli leaders have worked for this; many Palestinians have hoped for it. Many Palestinians have died at the hands of extremists on both sides. In fact, every time progress was made, extremists on both sides created the conditions for a rupture. When the Palestinian leaders finally recognised the right of the Israelis to have a state, the agreements multiplied and the French left applauded. And when an Israeli extremist assassinated the man of peace, Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli voters entrusted the country to someone who did not want a Palestinian state; while the Palestinians abandoned Gaza to terrorist movements, and the West Bank to more or less corrupt cacochymes. Both sides were happy with the situation: the Israeli right-wing leaders hoped to make the creation of a Palestinian state impossible and the Palestinian Islamists continued to deny the right of Israelis to a state.
For the left in France, nothing changed: mutual recognition remained the line. And support for Israeli democracy remained a major axis of the foreign policy of the left-wing parties in France.
For all that, nothing has been settled: Israeli youth are deeply disturbed by their participation in an army that is now, at times, nothing more than an army of occupation; the Arabs of the territories, citizens of no state, suffer from numerous real, if not formal, limitations on their rights, particularly in the area of property; and the invasive colonisation is fragmenting the West Bank, making the creation of a sovereign state on this territory practically impossible, without helping its development.
One day, closer than we think, the young Palestinians, rid of their Islamist leaders, or corrupt, or cacochistic, or all three at once, will give up demanding a state, to ask for the same rights as Israeli Arabs in a Single State, which would mean in the long term, demographically, the end of the Zionist project.
In France, some on the left, hoping to reach an electorate in the neighbourhoods whose real aspirations they do not understand, ride the worst mounts of the extremists and describe Israel as the apartheid state that it is not, but that some Palestinians would like it to become so that they can claim a South African-type strategy, and dissolve Israel into another Middle Eastern state
It is up to the Israelis, and them alone, to make the right decisions with their neighbours. For his part, a French leftist cannot identify with the Israeli right-wing colonisation policy or with the Islamic fanaticism of too many Palestinians. Nor can he approve of the calls for the unilateral denunciation of Israeli blunders, without at the same time denouncing the permanent violations of men’s and women’s rights in the Palestinian territories by the Palestinians themselves. It must know and make known the reality of the situation in the region, by visiting it. He cannot accept the use of the words “genocide” or “apartheid” or “massacre” used here out of place. Nor can he accept that the right of the Israelis to defend their state, their democracy and their values, which are also ours, should be called into question. A French leftist must also reaffirm his support for the existence of the State of Israel; he must continue to encourage the creation of a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state; and the creation of the Middle East Common Market of which the great Israeli leftist, Shimon Peres, dreamed. It must help the Israeli left to strengthen itself and defend its ideals. It must avoid importing the conflict, or what remains of it, into our neighbourhoods, for base and misleading electoral reasons and refuse to keep alive the small anti-Semitic flame that smolders in certain circles in our country. Finally, it must gather the French around a project of integration of all our fellow citizens in the republican, secular and universal model, which must remain the pride of our Enlightenment and serve, once again, as a model elsewhere in the world. And in particular in the Middle East.