PARIS – Israeli Ambassador to France Aliza Bin-Noun is a busy woman. Her secretary’s telephone doesn’t stop ringing with interview requests or by people who would like to meet the Jewish state’s top female diplomat. She herself tries to get out of her office as much as possible, to meet people from all spheres of French society in Paris and also around the country.
On Bin-Noun’s neatly arranged desk lies the morning’s paper, with a report on the anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in France in the past year. In an interview to the daily La Croix on Tuesday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 806 anti-Semitic acts were registered in France in 2015, a five percent decline compared to 2014. Bin-Noun has already read the report and has discussed it with local Jewish leaders.
“Indeed, ever since I got here last summer I’ve been confronted with a sense of insecurity in the Jewish community – insecurity primarily following the attack at Hyper Cacher, but also due to the smaller scale attacks that ensued, such as the incident in Marseille just a few days ago, where a teacher was stabbed by a 15-year old,” says Bin-Noun in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
“The accumulation of so many incidents definitely takes its toll on them.”
Nevertheless, she stresses that in all of her encounters with the French-Jewish community, they express that they “feel that the government is doing whatever it can, and beyond, to protect them, to protect the synagogues and the Jewish schools.”
Bin-Noun continued, “This is also something that I hear in almost every meeting I have with French officials: their total commitment to protect the community and a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism.”
As far as Bin-Noun is concerned, the French battle against anti-Semitism is just one topic in a very long list of issues where Israel and France see eye to eye.
“The 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris have provoked a deep change in matters pertaining to personal security. When I enter a shopping mall here or a movie theater, I see guards checking bags, just like they do in Israel. The reality here is France has [introduced] this new awareness, and the French know that Israel is an expert on challenging this reality.
“True, many here make a distinction between the Palestinian terrorism that we are experiencing and the attacks on European soil, but I think they understand now, better, the threats with which we in Israel must deal on a daily basis,” she says. “Public statements to that effect, eagerness to exchange information and know-how on security matters and a willingness to listen to our side of the story all demonstrate the process of change France is undergoing.”
Bin-Noun recounts that contrary to the picture presented at times by the media, contacts between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President François Hollande are actually very good. She witnessed that personally, when she accompanied Netanyahu with a large delegation of some 60 environment experts, officials and businesspeople to the COP21 climate conference in Paris.
“The meeting between them at the end of November at the COP21 opening was excellent. They spoke about the many concerns that both of them share, such as global terrorism, Iran’s nuclear program and more. The conversation relayed a similar spirit of dialogue to the one demonstrated in President Hollande’s visit to the Knesset in 2013.”
Israel and France share the same concerns regarding the Iranian nuclear program, and the French have no illusions regarding Iran’s long-term intentions, the ambassador says. Despite the rapport, though, France and Israel diverge politically.
“France has endorsed the deal, together with the other P5+1 members,” she says. “[Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani is scheduled to visit here in a few days. Paris believes that encouraging moderate elements within Iran could bring about a change. We see the picture much differently.”
Another issue is Hezbollah. France differentiates between the organization’s political leadership and its military branch, which is on the EU terrorist organization list. “They believe the West must enter dialogue with Hezbollah’s political leaders.
But on this issue as well, I think that the French understand the nature of the threat Israel is dealing with.’’ The Palestinian question is a different matter, she agrees. She says that the decision by EU ministers on Monday that all agreements with Israel are inapplicable beyond the Green Line demonstrates this point clearly, especially if one believes publications claiming that France, Ireland and Sweden were the ones to push this resolution forward.
“Paris believes that new initiatives are needed in order to break the diplomatic stalemate between the Palestinians and us, and that international pressure on Israel would bring about a renewal of the negotiation process,” she says. “The Palestinians keep demanding that the Europeans act on that. [The Palestinians] think that by pushing Israel to the corner, Israel will give up and agree to all of the Palestinian demands.”
Bin-Noun states that despite this fundamental diplomatic divergence, it is important that the French leadership receive the Israeli position first hand, as was the case with the visit of Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Paris two weeks ago.
But, even dialogue seems to have its limits. When Bin-Noun is asked if Israel is in talks with the far-right National Front or its leader, Marine Le Pen, the ambassador responds flatly, “no.”
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