The international community has imposed an “emotional blockade” on Israel that
has prevented the world from sympathizing with Israeli citizens, according to
France’s Ambassador for Human Rights Francois Zimeray.
has not gone to Israel,” said Zimeray, noting that both Israelis and Palestinian
have suffered as a result of the conflict. “The world does not realize how
intense this [Israeli] suffering can be.”
He spoke to The Jerusalem Post
during a visit last week to address the Seventh International Conference
Holocaust Education and Remembrance held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
idea of an emotional blockade is not new to him. As an image, however,
carries a particular resonance now, as Israel works to reverse its
blockade of Gaza.
“I came to this idea when I was a member of the
European Parliament. When bombs were exploding in Israel [there was
sympathy for the victims],” he said. “There is a denial in Western minds
Israel’s vulnerability. The feeling of compassion with Jewish suffering
The international community is held hostage by the
narrow prism through which it views the conflict, according to Zimeray.
in turn, operates in survival mode under the mistaken belief that it is
the world, he said.
Zimeray described himself as “a friend of Israel,”
even though he added wryly that this was the kind of statement that
“starts out well, but ends badly.”
Growing up in Paris to Jewish parents
– one from Morocco and the other from Algeria – Zimeray sees himself on a
personal mission to ensure that the Holocaust never happened again by
behalf of human rights. As a high school senior, he became active on
Cambodians who escaped genocide by fleeing to France.
“I come from a
family that was not religious, but had a strong feeling of belonging to
history and a secular Jewish tradition,” said Zimeray. “I had been
[the Holocaust slogan] ‘Never Again.’ I said if I do not do anything,
died in the Holocaust will have died in vain.”
AS AN international human
rights attorney, he has focused on issues from the Congo to Darfur. As a
politician and a diplomat, he has watched the increasing, almost
by the international community on Israel as a human rights abuser.
not easy for the 48-year-old diplomat to hear that nine Turkish
been killed at the end of last month aboard a Gaza bound ship, after
broke out when the IDF boarded to prevent it from breaking the naval
But he was dismayed by the speed with which many in the international
condemned Israel without placing the incident in context.
His position on
Gaza mirrors that of his country.
Zimeray did not condone violence nor
has he supported the closure of Gaza to all but humanitarian goods. But
same time, he believes Israel has a right to monitor goods that enter
land or sea.
Zimeray hopes that by taking this position he has walked a
fine line between supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, while
it for harming the rights of civilians in Gaza.
“It would be
egotistical,” he said, “to pretend that we would have reacted better.
among those who have condemned Israel, many would have behaved much
doubt about that.”
Within the international condemnation’s explicit
message was also an implicit one, said Zimeray: “Israel should not have
that position where a flotilla comes across the sea to visit.”
the restrictions at the land crossings, there would have been no need
flotilla, he said.
“I have been in Gaza twice and the only thing I would
like to share with your readers is this: How would I see the world, what
my feelings be if I lived there?” he asked.
“Having said that, I know
that if Hamas said tomorrow that it recognized Israel and renounced
[Israel would behave differently toward Gaza].”
Hamas, he said, should
also release captive soldier Gilad Schalit, a dual Israeli-French
Gaza is not the sole reason that many nations are angry with
Israel, Zimeray stressed.
It might not be fair, he said, but what
exasperated the international community was that the conflict with the
Palestinians had lasted so long. The world, he said, had projected onto
all that anger and frustration over the conflict’s longevity.
that emotion stemmed from anti-Semitism, Zimeray said. But only
“This ingredient exists, but it pales in comparison to the
calcification of more than 60 years of conflict,” he said.
about peace, but they have given the world the impression that it can
As a result, the international community has the sense that the
status quo was acceptable for Israelis.
“We do not have the feeling that
every morning and every evening, Israelis work to achieve peace.”
had to do more to show the world there was nothing more important than
ACKNOWLEDGING THAT there were double standards in
media coverage of the Gaza flotilla, he noted that the 400,000 Uzbeks
ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan this month and the 2,000 who may have died
received significantly less media attention. The same was true for those
died in Sri Lanka’s Civil War or the genocide in Darfur, he said.
asked: Where was the concern for the plight of the Palestinians in Syria
they lived in horrible conditions? “If only the world would mobilize for
causes in the way that it has focused on Israel,” he said.
problematic, he said, was the application of language from the Holocaust
apartheid South Africa, which had given people an exaggerated sense of
happening in the Palestinian territories.
He has heard, for example,
people comparing Gaza to Auschwitz.
“If Gaza is Auschwitz, then Auschwitz
was not Auschwitz,” he said. “The situation in Gaza is sad and deserves
indignation, but it is not the same as the Holocaust.”
To truly achieve
peace, he said, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be divided
and bad victims.
“Human rights should not be a tool that is used in favor
of one camp against the other. People who have nothing to do with the
and define themselves as only pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli are
What did it mean to be pro-Israeli if one did not support the state
of Israel living in peace with its neighbors, he asked. What did it mean
pro- Palestinian if not to support a democratic Palestinian state living
alongside Israel in peace. To be pro-Palestinian was to be pro-Israeli
versa, he said.
Instead, the international community and Israel were
trapped in a kind of cyclical political phenomenon that had become like
relationship of the chicken to the egg; it was impossible to tell what
first. Israel felt like it was endangered, isolated and had no choice
resort to violence to protect itself.
The international community didn’t
understand Israel and condemned that action, often by simplifying the
which only impressed on Israel the very principles which pushed it to
violently to begin with, he said.
The cycle, he said, went something like
this: “Brutality, condemnation, incomprehension, isolation and then
On the assumption that it was alone, Israel rejected
all proposals by the international community, a move that put the two
further at odds and made it appear to be rejectionist, he said.
is a prisoner of its own conviction that the world does not understand
The international community, he said, had to think of the
consequence of its words before pronouncing them and to realize how
Israel, in turn, had to learn to distinguish between its
friends and its foes. More to the point, it had to raise the drive to
international image to the level of a strategic imperative, or risk a
in which the state itself was delegitimized.
“This is a very important
arena. One has to deal with international public opinion exactly as one
deal with internal public opinion. It means that one has to deal with
and wrong information and misperception of reality [that were] inherited
war of images,” he said.
“One has to consider it as a political fact and
to work with it.
“I am concerned about the gap of misunderstanding
between Israel and the rest of the world. It is not good for Israel, for
friends of Israel and for peace,” said Zimeray.
He added that he was also
worried about the legitimacy of Israel as it moved into the
International consensus was one of the important foundations on
which Israel’s existence as a democratic Jewish state rested, he
“As a French citizen and as a European, I have to say that the
legitimacy of Israel does not rely only on the blood and the sweat of
people,” he said.