'Israel has unfairly shouldered blame'

French human rights envoy says "nation of survivors" is not alone.

By
June 23, 2010 05:31
3 minute read.
French Ambassador for Human Rights François Zimera

François Zimeray 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

World hostility toward Israel is largely an expression of international exasperation that the conflict with the Palestinians has lasted for so long, France’s Ambassador for Human Rights François Zimeray told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“It’s like a leak coming from a pipe,” said Zimeray, “if you do not repair it, eventually you will have a flood.”

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He spoke with the Post by phone from Paris and during a visit to Israel last week to address the Seventh International Conference on Holocaust Education and Remembrance, held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Zimeray is the first to admit that it is not fair that Israel has shouldered so much of the blame for the continuation of the conflict.

But at the same time, he said, it remains a fact with which Israel has to contend, because public image is a key component of its conflict with the Palestinians.

“International public opinion is a battlefield. Image has a strategic value,” said Zimeray.

Zimeray did not discount the role that anti-Semitism has played in stoking anti-Israel feelings.

But Israel has not helped the situation, he said, by turning its back on the international community and rejecting many of its demands in numerous issues with respect to the Palestinian territories.

There is a sense, he said, that Israel is continually saying no.

Sunday’s security cabinet decision to remove many of the restrictions on goods brought into Gaza, he said, was a step in the right direction. But it should have been done three years ago when Israel’s friends advised it in whispered tones, not when the whole world shouted for it.

Israel needs to do a better job of understanding that it has friends, and listening to them, Zimeray continued.

“Sometimes Israel behaves as if it has no friends. Maybe because you are a nation of survivors, you behave like survivors. When one is a survivor, one has no friends,” he suggested.

“This is not true. In our case, France, it is not only that we are friends of Israel. We love Israel. We admire Israel,” he declared.

“Do not consider the international community as a hostile block, even though I recognize that some aspects of international [discourse] legitimately give this impression,” he went on.

It’s true, he said, that public opinion has swung against Israel, but that does not mean Israel is alone.

There is, he said, a “cycle of incomprehension” and rejection that perpetually goes on between Israel and popular world opinion.

“The international community condemns Israel, and Israel is convinced that the world does not understand it,” he said.

With the help of the media, the conflict has been oversimplified to the two basic images of victim and occupier, he explained. These misconceptions, he said, have been fed by a war of images that has lasted for decades. Time has not played in Israel’s favor here, he said.

In some instances, the anti-Israel attacks undermine the very nature of the state, he noted.

“I am very concerned, as a friend of Israel, [about] the attack on the legitimacy of the Jewish state,” said Zimeray.

Immediate examples of this can be seen in headlines, which appeared in some European papers in the immediate aftermath of the IDF raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla at the end of last month, he pointed out.

In one case, he said, they referred to Israel as a “pirate state.” As a result, he said, “I am concerned about the gap of misunderstanding between Israel and the rest of the world. It is not good for Israel, for the friends of Israel and for peace.”

The full interview will appear in Thursday’s Jerusalem Post.


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