June 10. 2023. 2:00

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France late in condemning Israeli minister’s anti-Palestine comments

The French Foreign Ministry took 48 hours to formally condemn Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for the remarks he made in Paris on Sunday about Palestinians being a mere invention of the past century.

Smotrich, an ultra-conservative minister, made the remarks on Sunday during the memorial of Jacques Kupfer, a controversial anti-Palestinian figure in the French Jewish community.

“The existence of an imaginary people demanding rights in the Land of Israel is only to fight the Zionist movement. This is the historical truth. This is the biblical truth,” he said in a video posted on social media.

Smotrich, a guest of the “Israel is forever” organisation founded by Kupfer, argued that “the Palestinian people are an invention of less than a hundred years.”

“Do they have a history, a culture? No. There are no Palestinians, there are just Arabs,” he said from a podium covered with a map of “Greater Israel”, which includes not only the West Bank but also the Kingdom of Jordan.

Within the hours that followed his comments, governments worldwide shared their outrage – but France remained silent.

The minister’s speech is “disrespectful, dangerous and counterproductive in a situation that is already very tense,” said Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, who called for a formal condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

The US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also voiced his “objection” to Smotrich’s remarks, which he said contributed to continued regional tensions.

The Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan also expressed their condemnation and summoned the Israeli ambassador to Amman on Monday. Tensions have run particularly high in the occupied territories over the last week due to outbreaks of violence between Israeli settlers and the Palestinian population.

For France, however, it took 48 hours for authorities to express their discontent.

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre condemned the minister’s remarks on Tuesday, calling them “unworthy and irresponsible”.

She called on members of the Israeli government to “show the dignity of high-level political positions, respect the dignity of others and refrain from any action or statement that would contribute to the escalation of tensions”.

EURACTIV France contacted the Quai d’Orsay to find out whether any meetings between Smotrich and French government politicians had been arranged on Sunday, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

(Theo Bourgery-Gonse | EURACTIV.fr)

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