Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy: A Special Report
The resounding slogan of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” leaves no room for racism in the French state, in theory. In practice, over the two centuries since that slogan was coined, rulers of France have tried with varying success to fit two peoples—Arabs and Jews—into their grand design for the French nation and for its standing in the world. Today, as long-held but misconceived ambitions collide, racism with its hates and fears increasingly plagues France, calling into question the relationship that the country's Arab and Jewish minorities have with each other, that each has with the state, and that the state has with Arab nations on the one hand and with Israel on the other.
The official position taken toward French Jews goes back to the revolution of 1789. In December of that year, during a debate over granting citizenship to the country's Jewish minority, Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, a liberal aristocrat, declared in the Constituent Assembly: “Everything must be refused to the Jews as a nation, and everything granted to the Jews as individuals.” This idea was soon enshrined in law. Behind it lay the suspicion that Jews had their own brand of nationalism, one that cut across the French nationalism emerging from the revolution. To the French elite, moreover, Jews have consistently seemed to be the conspiratorial tools of others, first of Germany and Russia, then of Britain, and finally, in the 20th century, of Zionists.
What is remarkable is that, in spite of the unregenerate anti-Semitism revealed and unleashed by the Dreyfus Affair at the end of the 19th century, in spite even of French participation in the Nazi mass murder of World War II, French Jews have generally accommodated themselves to the state's view of the necessary relation between them, and have been content, at least until recently, to downplay the ethnic element in their own identity as a people. This has, however, been less true of those hailing from French-speaking North Africa, who today make up the majority of the 600,000-strong community. In addition, the return of anti-Semitism during the last few years in France has willynilly raised the ethnic consciousness of even the most assimilated elements of the older community.
On the Muslim and Arab side, although virtually no Muslims lived in France until the 20th century, the French state long regarded its vital interests as tied up in Arab lands. Napoleon Bonaparte's 1798 campaign in Egypt and the French invasion of Algeria in 1830 were military adventures undertaken with the express purpose of emulating imperial Britain: England might have India, but France could move into, and ultimately colonize, the Arab world. Moreover, France traditionally claimed the right to protect Catholics and Christianity in the Ottoman empire, and in the Holy Land in particular; in 1843, a French consulate opened in Jerusalem. By the 1850's, Napoleon III and his administration had elaborated the concept of a “Franco-Arab kingdom,” grandiosely expanding this to visualize France itself as “a Muslim power” (une puissance musulmane).
In a gesture aimed at rewarding North African Arabs for their service in World War I, the Great Mosque of Paris was opened in 1926. But large-scale immigration did not begin until after the end of the Algerian war in 1958, when 250,000 so-called “harkis,” Algerians who had opposed the nationalist movement, sought refuge in France. In the 1960's and 1970's, immigrants arrived steadily from each of the newly independent Maghreb countries. Initially they were allowed to come only as guest workers seeking to better themselves and return home, but a change of law in 1974 gave them residence and other rights.
The size of today's community is a matter of contention. A figure of upward of 6 million has long been accepted, but Nicolas Sarkozy, a onetime minister of the interior now aspiring to be president, and the semi-official newspaper Le Monde have both spoken of 5 million, while the demographer Michèle Tribalat has reduced this further to 3.65 million. Muslims tend to congregate in the outskirts of the great cities, where bad housing conditions and a lack of employment generate all the ills and violence of alienation. More than 5,000 mosques serve as community centers; at the national level, there is a representative Muslim institution, the Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM). Some of the demands or practices of Islam being incompatible with bedrock republican secularism, embarrassing conflicts have arisen like the one over the right of Muslim girls to wear the hijab in school; it took the French authorities fifteen years to decide that this defied the constitution.
Depending on the figure one accepts, Muslim Arabs outnumber Jews in France by a factor of at least six to one, perhaps by as much as eight to one. As the number of Arabs rises, and as France fails to deliver on its promise of equality and prosperity, the question of their place as a minority has come increasingly to the fore. That question has been made all the more complicated by the fact that, over the decades, Arabs and Jews alike have transformed themselves from passive subjects of history into active agents on the world stage, acquiring new identities and modern nation-states of their own.
For Arabs, one of the most evident signs of self-identity is hostility toward Jews and Israel. In a 2003 collection of essays about Islam in France, the sociologist Barbara Lefèbvre offered typical examples of this prejudice in the younger generation. Addressing a teacher, a boy in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis quotes his father: “There will be a final war between Muslims and Jews, and the Jews will be destroyed; it says so in the Qur'an.” In another Paris district, a teacher overhears Arab children telling Jewish children: “Jewish dogs, we're going to burn Israel, go back to your country.”
Of course, Arab aggression against Jews has been rising everywhere in the last decades. But it is particularly virulent in France, where it has been accompanied by occasional loss of life, street violence against individuals, and bombings of synagogues, restaurants, offices, and shops. For a long time, the authorities maintained that this was mere hooliganism rather than the manifestation of a vengeful jihad. (Many Arab ghettos are outside the law: no-go areas for the police.) But as it became clear that imams were using their mosques to preach anti-Semitism and the hatred of all non-Muslims, the agents of law enforcement at last began to take action. A number of extremists have been deported, and the police have been able to foil and arrest terrorists coming from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco.
But this is to raise a much larger issue—namely, the differential attitude of the French elite toward Arabs and Jews. Much has been written about the role of European academics, intellectuals, and journalists in excusing, justifying, or sympathizing with Muslim anti-Semitism. But no less pertinent, and arguably more so, is the role of policy-makers. Ideas and attitudes work downward from the political elite that conceives them to the people who have to live with the consequences.
The French foreign ministry, generally referred to as the Quai d'Orsay, is the institution above all others in France that has been responsible for realizing the state's grand design and the political outcome that has followed from it. The archives of that institution, along with the testimony of generations of diplomats writing in their memoirs, show how a small number of highly motivated and carefully selected men have fostered preconceptions of Arabs and Jews that have now come to threaten the integrity of the French nation.
The Quai d'Orsay
Situated next to the National Assembly on the left bank of the Seine, the Quai d'Orsay occupies a splendid building in the opulent style of 19th-century Paris. Here, both the site and the architecture declare, is where the nation's fate is shaped, by men of exceptional intelligence. Many of these men have had literary as well as diplomatic gifts: a huge body of memoirs harks back with nostalgia to the enduring club-like atmosphere of the place, symbolized in the tea ceremony at five o'clock where the Quai d'Orsay in its heyday used to gather and consolidate its collective thoughts.
Recurrent governmental instability has reinforced the importance of the Quai d'Orsay. Between September 1870 and August 1914, for example, there were no fewer than 30 foreign ministers of France; the pace of turnover was just as turbulent during the Fourth Republic (1949-59), improving only in today's Fifth. Although a few foreign ministers have been able to impose their own policy objectives, the majority have come and gone with bewildering rapidity and to little effect. Prime ministers have further devalued the position by often reserving it for themselves. In sum, foreign ministers have had to rely disproportionately on their permanent civil servants: not only their private staffs but the secretary-general of the Quai d'Orsay, also referred to as the political director, and the heads of its various departments.
From the start, the ministry was staffed by self-selected members of the aristocracy. Competitive examinations were introduced in 1894, but this and other reforms mainly served to perpetuate the ministry's sense of itself, handed down by the old to the young. In successive generations, the Cambons, Herbettes, Margeries, François-Poncets, and Courcels became nothing less than dynasties. In The French Foreign Office and the Origins of the First World War, 1898-1914 (1993), H. B. Haynes writes that entry to the Quai d'Orsay was determined by “nepotism, patronage, and political persuasion [that was] Catholic and hostile to Jews and Protestants and the parliamentary system.”
Indeed. A document in the archives from October 1893 reveals that “an Israelite” by the name of Paul Frédéric-Jean Grunebaum had applied to the personnel office of the Quai d'Orsay and wished to know “if this fact [was] of a kind to forbid him access to a diplomatic or consular career.” The margin carries a note from Louis Herbette, secretary general at the time: “I saw M. Grunebaum, who spontaneously withdrew his request. . . . He bowed with good grace to the motives dictating the department's decision.”
By the 1920's, the diplomatic service was open to Jews, but they would have needed thick skins to survive. As J.-B. Barbier, who joined the Quai d'Orsay in 1904, commented in his memoirs, “the career had no Jews among its members, at least as far as the important governing levels were concerned.”1 And this was a matter of some gratification since Jews, Barbier held, belonged to an “often parasitical ethnic element,” and the way some of them had managed to penetrate the service was “disastrous.” Against one of them, Jean Marx, the head of overseas cultural programs, Barbier would wage a passionate campaign as the epitome of the “anti-national Jew” who, duly backed by “International Jewry,” had recruited unreliable and even traitorous people of his own kind.
Jews in the Mind of the Quai d'Orsay
The historical record displays evidence of unremitting hostility to Jews, decade after decade.
In 1840, a rumor spread in Damascus that an Italian Capuchin friar and his Arab servant had disappeared. The French consul in the city, Comte Ulysse de Ratti-Menton, immediately accused the Jewish community of ritual murder, and persuaded the Ottoman governor to arrest Jewish notables and hold Jewish children hostage. Some of the notables died under torture; others were forcibly converted to Islam.
The scandal rocked Europe, but Ratti-Menton was unrepentant and the Quai d'Orsay defended him. In the National Assembly, Prime Minister Adolphe Thiers complained that Jews were “besieging all the chancelleries with their petitions.” When Arab media today depict ritual murder as a fact of Jewish life, they are retailing, whether they know it or not, lessons learned from French teachers long ago.
But the seminal event of the 19th century was the 1890's trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer falsely accused of betraying military secrets to the Germans. The conspiracy to prove Dreyfus guilty of treason was hatched in the ministry of war; the Quai d'Orsay stayed at a watchful distance. But when the guilty verdict was declared in December 1894, and partisans of Dreyfus's innocence refused to let the injustice stand, a number of ambassadors could be heard lamenting the damage to France that the case was doing. The brilliant but slippery Maurice Paléologue represented the foreign ministry in 1899 at Dreyfus's successful appeal. He saw the documents, met the officers who had forged the incriminating evidence, looked hard at Dreyfus's face as the reprieve was about to be announced, and thought he could detect there a perduring Jewish trait: “an immense pride beneath a mask of humility.” Fortunately, he would confide in a letter to a colleague, he himself was immune as a diplomat from prosecution.
Few men left a greater mark on the Quai d'Orsay than Paul Cambon, born in 1843, and his brother Jules, two years younger. Both were powerful personalities. Paul, ambassador in London for 22 years, was a principal architect of the Entente Cordiale with Britain. Jules served in Washington. Both were also involved with Arab affairs, Paul as resident in Tunisia, Jules as governor-general of Algeria. Paul believed that Dreyfus, as a Jew, was a traitor by definition, and appears to have changed his mind only once the appeal process had started; his brother Jules, in common with many other colleagues in the diplomatic service, persisted in thinking Dreyfus guilty to the end. To one of those colleagues (Auguste Gérard), the anti-Dreyfus forces were the “natural defenders” of the nation, the “true representatives of France and its genius.”
Pogroms in czarist Russia were occurring at the same time as the Dreyfus trial in France. A. Bompard, ambassador in Saint Petersburg from 1902 to 1908 and a man much esteemed at the Quai d'Orsay, wrote in an August 1903 report: “I pass over in silence anti-Jewish disturbances such as those in Kishinev because they are, so to speak, on the rebound from agrarian disturbances. The Jewish population . . . is a nursery of nihilists and agitators.” A year later, writing to Foreign Minister Théophile Delcassé, he compared the Finns, “wise and calm,” to the Jews, “detested but [economically] indispensable at the same time, themselves full of hatred as they hold the people to ransom and undermine authority.”
In due course Paléologue succeeded Bompard at Saint Petersburg. Czarist policy toward the Jews, he asserted, seemed devised to sustain
their hereditary defects and their bad passions, to exasperate their hatred for goyim, to plunge them deeper into their talmudic prejudices, to affirm them in their state of permanent inner rebellion, to bring the indestructible hope of promised reparations shining in their eyes. . . . [T]he vengeful and vindictive stubbornness of the Jews could not have found a more favorable climate.
In 1915, as World War I raged, he sent a laconic telegram: “Since the beginning of the war, Russian Jews have not had to submit to any collective violence. . . . In the zone of operations a few hundred Jews have been hanged for espionage: nothing more.”
The Catholic Factor
In the late 19th century, the French built up their position simultaneously in North Africa and in the Ottoman provinces comprising Syria, Lebanon, and the Holy Land. In the latter case, the process was slow and piecemeal, often promoted by pious and wealthy individuals. Comte Paul de Piellat, for instance, settled in Jerusalem, purchasing real estate and bequeathing it to the Catholic Church. The French had hospitals in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Nablus, as well as monasteries and seminaries and several churches; they also owned and operated the Jerusalem-Jaffa railway.
In 1888 the Vatican decreed that Catholics and Catholic institutions in the Levant should henceforth look for protection exclusively to France. Prime Minister Jules Ferry, most imperial of French politicians, held that “this protectorate of Christians in the Orient is in some sense part of our Mediterranean domain.” Aspiring to counteract the British, who were then consolidating their hold on Egypt, Foreign Minister Gabriel Hanotaux believed that, through its Catholic protectorate, France was now the only European power “capable of acting without fatal contention but side by side with Muslim monotheism.”
Treaties in 1901 with the Turkish sultan and in 1913 with the Young Turks protected France's privileged position in the Holy Land, then still under Ottoman dominion. A Comité de l'Asie Française was founded in 1901; eight years later, a second committee was formed to develop “our moral, economic, and political standing in the Orient.” These appeared to be building blocks toward the goal of becoming a true “puissance musulmane.”
The anti-clericalism of the French Left, and France's eventual break with the Vatican, cut right across any such sweeping Catholic ambitions. Soon, too, Germany, Italy, and Russia would challenge France's position, expanding the institutions belonging to their own respective religions. Kaiser Wilhelm's visit to the Holy Land in 1898 represented one such open challenge.
Zionism vs. French Ambitions
The rise of political Zionism promised to bestow a modern national identity on the Jews, one that would altogether overturn the French state's preferred definition of who they were. French diplomats in central and eastern Europe, where the most ardent Zionists could be found, were quick to register dismay and to search for the causes, open or occult, of this disturbing new development. Writing from Bucharest in June 1902, L. Descoy regretted the “extreme enthusiasm” of that city's Jewish community at the arrival of Bernard Lazare, a gifted French Jewish polemicist and early Zionist, suggesting that it had been whipped up by a newspaper “whose leading editors are Israelites.” In Budapest, Vicomte de Fontenay, in charge of the consulate, reported in August 1906 that, for the Magyar population, the advent of Zionism was “a new cloud” on the horizon, one likely to grow “worse with time.” In February 1912, Max Chouttier, consul in Salonika, relayed warnings against Zionism in the official local press, expressing the hope that these warnings would “give the Jewish communities pause for thought and encourage them to oppose Germano-Zionist propaganda.”
G. Deville, minister in Athens, commented adversely on the role in Salonika of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, the school system set up by French Jews to promote Jewish education and culture in the Middle East. To Deville, the Alliance was screening its true ambitions; its Parisian director “might be a good Frenchman, but those of his religion in Salonika think only of serving themselves and not of serving France. . . . In these circumstances, is it to our benefit to upset the Greeks in order to flatter Jewish pride?” In Le Mirage Oriental (1910), Louis Bertrand, another polished writer-diplomat, wrote of the “displeasing” Jews he had met in Ottoman Palestine, with “their hybrid clothes, half European, half Oriental, dirty, with glowering looks . . . hordes crazed with poverty and mysticism.”
In the Holy Land itself, Zionism had implications far greater than it did in Europe: by definition, it represented a rival to French expansionism and France's Catholic protectorate. The spontaneous reaction was twofold—to heap contempt on Jewish nationalism and to sponsor Arab nationalism in opposition to it.
Najib Azoury, a Maronite Christian from Beirut who had once been employed in the Ottoman bureaucracy in Jerusalem but now lived in Paris, published a booklet, Le Réveil de la nation arabe, predicting that Jews and Arabs were destined to fight until one eliminated the other. The Quai d'Orsay apparently subsidized a journal, L'Indépendence arabe, that this unsavory character began to put out in 1907, and paid for a meeting in Paris in June 1913 at which 23 Arabs from Syria and the Holy Land effectively launched the Arab nationalist movement.
After world war I, two highly restricted groups of specialists in the Quai d'Orsay handled the redrawing of the map of the Middle East in the wake of the demise of the Ottoman empire. The personnel overlapped, and were of a single mind: France already controlled the Arab western shores of the Mediterranean, and now could add the eastern ones, what these experts referred to as la Syrie intégrale or Greater Syria (that is, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine). The question before them was how to turn both Arab nationalism and Zionism to their purposes.
The background was as follows. François Georges-Picot had been counselor at the wartime French embassy in London. In secret negotiations in 1916 with Sir Mark Sykes, a Conservative member of Parliament, he reached what he believed was an agreement granting France possession of la Syrie intégrale after the war. The Germans, it was suspected, were about to issue a proclamation of support for Zionism, and this could swing Russian Jews to their side, with ominous consequences for the outcome of the war; American Jews were thought to exercise a comparable influence on their country's policy. Therefore, according to André Tardieu, the French high commissioner in the U.S. and a future prime minister, the right of Jews to self-determination should be taken into consideration, lest “certain elements in American Jewry” lose interest in helping to recover Alsace and Lorraine for France.
Others similarly saw the Jews as holding France's postwar fate in their hands. On May 7, 1917 Jean Gout, head of the Asian section of the foreign ministry with responsibility for the Ottoman provinces, sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau:
The millenarian hopes of the Jews, especially the proletarians of Poland and Russia, are not socialistic as their social standing might suggest, nor national as the declarations of their intellectuals pretend, but they are essentially talmudic, that is to say religious. These poor devils have been nurtured on myths of misery which gives them a glimpse of Jerusalem as the end of their ills. . . . Even intelligent and educated Jews who have come to the top in countries with equal opportunities cherish for generations in a corner of their heart the dream of the old ghettos. Thanks to their wealth and the links they preserve among themselves, and the pressure they exert on ignorant governments, they represent an international weight.
An earlier proposal, to help create a small autonomous Jewish state with Hebron as its capital and Gaza as its port, had prompted Jules Cambon to comment bitingly that the Jews there could “grow oranges and exploit each other.” But since the powers were all bidding for Jewish favor, the French could, too; in June 1917, Cambon wrote a letter assuring the Zionist leadership of French support “in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that land from which the people of Israel were exiled so long ago.” This letter was no sooner sent than regretted, as the Quai d'Orsay rapidly returned to circulating anti-Zionist memoranda and bombarding the British with demands to abstain from any action that might raise unrealizable Jewish hopes.
That November, Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, issued the declaration bearing his name. It was far more supportive of Zionism than Cambon's letter. The British government, Balfour wrote, was in favor of “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. With 150,000 soldiers fighting the Turks to France's 800, the British were able to propose and dispose. On Christmas day 1917, Field Marshal Edmund Allenby entered Jerusalem with Georges-Picot in his entourage. At a picnic, the latter suggested setting up the civil administration he thought he had negotiated with Sykes. Also present was Lawrence of Arabia, and his description of Allenby's scornful response is one of the more famous passages in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
In December, a French diplomat in the embassy in London reported that, although wealthy English Jews were hostile to the Balfour Declaration, the enthusiastic view of poor and immigrant Jews was that “the Israelite race was superior to all others; it possessed colonies in all the countries and one day it shall dominate the world.” An unsigned position paper from around the same time suggested that Zionists, who drew their strength from the mysticism of Russian-Polish Jewry, were trying to spread their nefarious ideas to Jews in Algeria and Morocco, thereby seeking “to exploit great-power rivalry.” The author had some classic advice: “Our Jewish policy in North Africa is necessarily linked to our Muslim policy. We have to avoid Jewish nationalism, as also pan-Islamism or pan-Arabism, by favoring a slow and careful evolution in the direction of our civilisation.”
On January 15, 1919, Foreign Minister Stephen Pichon instructed Paul Cambon to alert the British government to the Zionist danger, lest it become a cause for international trouble in the Middle East. “The Zionists must understand once and for all that there can be no question of constituting an independent Jewish state in Palestine, or even forming some sovereign Jewish body.” Three days later Cambon reported back. He could hardly believe the conversation he had just had with Balfour. In his usual dilettantish manner (Cambon wrote), Balfour had said that “it would be interesting to be present at the reconstitution of the [ancient] Kingdom of Jerusalem.” When Cambon protested that, according to the New Testament book of Revelation, such an event would signal the end of the world, Balfour rejoined: “It would be still more interesting to be present at the end of the world.”
Between the Wars
The postwar treaty of peace signed at Sèvres settled the disposition of the former Ottoman provinces. France was to have a mandate for Syria, but not for Greater Syria: Palestine would be incorporated into a British mandate. Since the British at least were Christian (where the Ottomans had been Muslim), France duly renounced the letter of its Catholic protectorate. But not the spirit: as a Catholic paper, L'Oeuvre d'Orient, editorialized, “It is inadmissible that the ‘Country of Christ’ should become the prey of Jewry and of Anglo-Saxon heresy. It must remain the inviolable inheritance of France and the Church.” The Quai d'Orsay never ceased to play one side off against the other, at every level.
In October 1919, General Henri Gouraud arrived in Damascus to take up his appointment as French high commissioner and to scatter the minuscule number of Arab nationalists who sought to resist the French mandate. Meanwhile, Georges-Picot was alerting the Quai d'Orsay that British authorities in Jerusalem were finally becoming aware of growing Muslim restiveness, something that “could only be to the profit of our influence.” During the first six months of 1920, Gouraud bombarded his superiors with anti-Zionist telegrams. Both Muslims and Christians, he wrote, were expecting conditions in Palestine to be worse under the British than under the Turks. Suggesting the need for a renewed Catholic protectorate, he thought the French “should take advantage of circumstances to enlarge the scope of this protectorate to include the Muslims whom we cannot leave alone and unarmed to face Zionism.” A February 1920 dispatch states outright that Palestine would benefit from the guardianship of France.
Since the exact boundary between the French and British mandates remained uncertain, Gouraud's personal secretary, Robert de Caix, was dispatched to Jerusalem to discuss the issue with Sir Herbert Samuel, the British high commissioner. One historian, Peter A. Shambrook, has described de Caix as “the eminence grise at the Quai d'Orsay on the Levant question.” In a preliminary letter dated October 19, 1920, de Caix confirmed what was already political orthodoxy in his circle: the British and the Jews were conspiring together against French interests. From the outset he felt personally slighted because he had been “received in a rather mediocre way.” Samuel, he explained,
represents in Palestine what it is appropriate to call Anglo-Jewish policy. This well-mannered English Jew, scraped clean of the ghetto, has been completely taken up in Jerusalem by his tribe, and he attends synagogue, accepts no invitations on the Sabbath, and on holy days goes only on foot. It is a strange phenomenon when one reflects on the evident ignominy of Jews from Galicia and other surrounding regions who are now flooding Palestine but who draft people like Sir Herbert into their buffoonery. Before doing anything worthwhile in the country, these people dream of spreading at our expense, and you may be sure that the complete Jewry of both hemispheres will apply a policy consisting of rejecting our frontier.
In a lengthy final report, de Caix mentioned another personal insult: Samuel had declined an invitation to dine at the French consulate on the Sabbath. British policy, de Caix elaborated, may have been intended to exploit Jewish strength against France, but was in fact being exploited by it. Jews had infiltrated the local administration, and British officials were either lying low or leaving the country in disgust. As for the Jews, their religion was only a means to an end—“passionate nationalism and a thirst for revenge.” They would prove, he continued, harmful neighbors:
The frequent revolutionary and prophetic spirit of the Jews derives from the Bolshevism of the colonists whom Eastern Europe is sending to Palestine. Through conviction, and also through their instinctive tendency to fragment societies whose cohesion might stand in the way of their expansion, these people will . . . try to break the traditional framework of religious confessions [in Lebanon and Syria] that are already threatened for other reasons.
British rule in Palestine, de Caix concluded, amounted to a kind of despoiling. It had been allowed to occur only because the French had sacrificed themselves for the Allied cause on the Western front. But the French language and French intellectual influence were and ought to have remained paramount in the Holy Land. After all, the principal door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed “in the solid and massive ogival style born in the 12th century in the Ile de France.” He ended with the consoling thought that the future of Zionism remained doubtful: more than any other people, the Jews had lost the habit of agriculture, and their settlement of the land was artificial, expensive, and divisive. “If under the British mandate the native [Arab] peoples have a tendency to react, there is every chance that they will try to maintain, as indeed they do in Egypt, the French culture, which retains such attraction.”
On November 3, General Gouraud seconded the conclusions of de Caix's “remarkable report,” adding his opinion that Zionism was a threat to Syria as well. The loss of the Catholic protectorate made the care of French institutions more essential than ever. Twelve days later, Georges-Picot in a telegram from Beirut informed the ministry that British authorities in Jerusalem were taking precautions against riots and warning Muslims that they would be held responsible for any disorder. “This [British] attitude can only benefit our influence, as irritation with Zionism is only growing among . . . Muslims.” French consuls in mandatory Palestine became increasingly alarmist: Durieux in Haifa reported that the British were recruiting unemployed Jews as the core of a future Jewish army, and that Jewish and Protestant elements were attempting to cut the ground out from under the Catholics (that is, France). In May 1921, after riots in Jaffa, Durieux could at least write in relief that “our car was borne in triumph by the population crying ‘long live France, down with the Jews.’ ”
De Caix's interpretation of Zionism would have a lasting impact at the Quai d'Orsay. From the French protectorate of Morocco, Marshal Hubert Lyautey, perhaps the most respected spokesman for old-style French imperialism, reiterated in June 1923 that Zionism lacked any internal authenticity; at the same time, he advised extreme caution lest this doctrine, which had “received its directives from abroad, [and] served principally the interests of a determined power,” be imported into Morocco.
Seeking to show who the Jews really were, an unsigned report dated December 2, 1925 drew attention to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Although this work, purporting to show evidence of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, had already by then been exposed as a czarist forgery, the author gives credence to its “facts” and concludes that, if the matter is to be taken seriously, “we have to deal with a really diabolical plan.” That same year, the French ambassador in Warsaw reported that a local Zionist conference constituted an appeal for special privileges by Jews unwilling to accept any idea of Polish nationality, or even of simple loyalty. Covering another Zionist congress in Cracow ten years later, the succeeding ambassador to Poland adapted this same critique to the changing tenor of the times: “Basing themselves on conceptions that are more racial than religious, they aspire to set up on both banks of the Jordan a Jewish state conceived on the fascist model.” This ambassador appears to have been among the first to draw a comparison between Zionism and Nazism, likening the Revisionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky to Hitler.
To be sure, one does find an occasional official disposed to a favorable view of Zionism, usually on the basis of first-hand experience. One such was Henry de Jouvenel, Gouraud's successor as high commissioner in Syria. He visited Jerusalem in 1926 and later wrote: “Anti-Zionist when I arrived in the East, I became Zionist, or rather jealous of the British high commissioner in Palestine and all that the Zionists contribute.” Naturally, he added, France was obliged to support Christians, but the Jews were models of self-help, and their spirit of enterprise was admirable.
There were also realists like Philippe Berthelot, secretary general from 1920 to 1933, who commented that “Zionism is a fact” and regretted only that the Jews of England had understood the point of the movement while French Jews had proved unable to take “the lead of world Jewry to the benefit of France.” At Berthelot's instigation, the Quai d'Orsay set up a special department for religious affairs under Louis Canet, which soon became, in the words of one historian, an obligatory antechamber for visiting Zionist leaders. After a meeting with Chaim Weizmann in May 1927, Canet concluded a memorandum with a clear expression of his own inner thoughts: “Jewish nationalism is a mistake and Israel [i.e., Jews] can find peace only through assimilation.”
Throughout the interwar period, many of the Quai d'Orsay's leading lights were extremely capable men. Yet they and the politicians whom they served sought the shelter of the status quo, even though this meant appeasing the powerful and the vicious at the expense of the weak. All of a kind, they were conditioned to the task by background and temperament. Nor were their ranks enlarged or made more diverse. Candidates groomed in the select higher schools were examined in history, international and civil law, and economic geography, then vetted by a committee of four senior diplomats to ensure that they were socially and culturally presentable.
Here, in short, was a prime example of a French institution unable to take the measure of the age of the dictators. As the Nazi threat grew, and as Jews tried to escape from Europe to Palestine, French authorities feared violence in Muslim countries under French rule. And so, from March 1933 on, Jewish “travelers” were allowed to enter Syria only on condition that they had obtained immigration visas to Palestine from a British consulate abroad. Henri Gaillard, consul in Cairo, condemned the Jews of Egypt for “complaining without limit about the fate of those [in Europe] who share their religion.” In doing so, he grumbled, “they have succeeded in creating a strong current of Arab opinion against themselves in this country, where until now their position was completely privileged.” Gaston Bernard, consul in Trieste, reporting that his city was profiting from the traffic of Jewish emigrants on their way to Palestine, complained nevertheless that, on Lloyd Triestino steamships, “care has been carried to the extreme of ensuring that the emigrants have services of the talmudic cult and the exclusive use of kosher cuisine: and this, it has to be said, communicates a sui generis odor to these ships which customers of a normal composition no doubt appreciate less highly.”
In the immediate aftermath of Hitler's invasion of Austria in March 1938, the United States invited 28 European and Latin American governments to a conference at Evian to discuss how to facilitate the emigration of political refugees. By tacit agreement, and ostensibly for fear of stoking anti-Semitism, there was no open reference to Jews. Nothing of substance was agreed upon at the conference, which has been called “the Jewish Munich.” In the judgment of one authority, the historian Catherine Nicault, “the absolute lack of generosity in French policy was less striking [at Evian] than the indifference toward even keeping up any appearance of it”; she also notes outright and frequent anti-Semitic pronouncements on the part of French officials.
After the collapse of France in June 1940, Marshal Pétain agreed to an armistice with Hitler and then formed his Vichy government with the intention of collaborating with Nazi Germany. That October, without any prompting from Berlin, Vichy passed the Statut des Juifs, its version of Germany's Nuremberg laws, excluding Jews from whole areas of public life. Jacques Guérard, director of the office of Foreign Minister Paul Baudoin, telegraphed the French ambassador in Washington with instructions for allaying any disquiet in American public opinion. The prewar Left, he asserted in contravention of the facts, had allowed Jews to enter France in the hundreds of thousands, and these Jews, with “their special mentality,” had attacked “all the ideas from which the French had never wavered.” Again in contravention of the facts, since dispossession and arrest were already the order of the day, Guérard stated flagrantly that “no measure has been taken against individuals or property.” The sole purpose of the statute, he concluded, was “to allow the peaceful existence in France of elements whose racial characteristics make them dangerous when they mix too intimately with our political and administrative life.”
Collaboration with the Nazis was incompatible with any genuine foreign policy. Ambassadors in important capitals resigned, as did officials in the Vichy zone, some escaping into Spain and then onward to Algiers or London. A list of personnel at the Quai d'Orsay in February 1943 names the secretary general, Charles Rochat, along with a tiny handful of men under him. Asked later why he himself did not resign, Rochat answered that he was maintaining “the continuous affirmation of French sovereignty.” This was of course illusory: the Quai d'Orsay had virtually ceased to function.
Writers Take Sides
In his years as secretary general (1920-21, 1925-32), Philippe Berthelot set a special tone to which many of those who served with him would pay tribute in print. The son of a celebrated industrial chemist, Berthelot had supreme self-confidence and dedication, wide social connections, and genuine literary tastes. His wife, Hélène, conducted a fashionable salon. Under his sponsorship and protection, Paul Morand, Paul Claudel, Jean Giraudoux, and other writers employed at the Quai d'Orsay were given time and a sense of security, enabling them to build international literary reputations. It was as if they were members of an elite club rather than an institution of government. Berthelot's successor as secretary general, Alexis Saint-Léger, an elusive personality from the French West Indies, was a poet who under the pseudonym of Saint-John Perse would win the Nobel Prize. Taken together, these men perpetuated the image of the Quai d'Orsay as the repository of culture and brilliance.
Paul Morand grew up in an artistic milieu. He entered the Quai d'Orsay in 1913 at the age of twenty-five. Among his early writings was Mort d'un Juif (“Death of a Jew”), a short story in which a Jew on his death bed refuses to pay his doctor until the rate of exchange has improved. In a second piece of fiction, Mort d'un autre Juif (“Death of Another Jew”), the mortally wounded victim of a pogrom feels that he has been “faithful to the truth under the mask of eternal treason.” Alexis Saint-Léger wrote to Morand, “You have a prodigious gift.” Berthelot expected great things of him.
Morand used his status as a diplomat to travel in style all over the world. In 192 7 he married the divorced wife of Prince Dimitry Soutzo, the Romanian military attaché in Paris, and the couple settled smoothly into the beau monde. His many books display a cosmopolitan superiority verging on flippancy, and resorting time and again to malicious descriptions of Jews. In New York (1930), for example, he writes of Jewish intellectuals as “preachers, self-immolators, socialists, anarchists, Bolsheviks, Communists, and others ‘ists’ perpetually quarrelling and cursing each other,” altogether “giving a rather exact idea of what Jerusalem must have been.” The Lower East Side prompts this reaction: “Grilled and salted almonds are sold by peddlers whose frozen hooked noses stick out of moth-eaten fur caps brought over from Russia by their ancestors.” Morand claimed that his novel France La Doulce (“Sweet France,” 1934) was satire; although he was no Céline calling outright for the massacre of Jews, the book, whose theme is that Jews control the movie industry and that their sole objective is money-grubbing and the debauchery of public taste, has a central place in the anti-Semitic literature of the period.
In 1940 Morand was in London at the head of an economic warfare mission. Like all but a handful of the 800 French officials in Britain at the collapse of France, he rejected Charles de Gaulle's appeal to join the Free French and instead returned home. In Vichy he was made president of the Commission for Film Censorship. In 1943, Morand took up an appointment as French ambassador in Bucharest, and for a few weeks before the end of Vichy served as ambassador in Berne, where he and his wife judged it prudent to remain as long as there was any chance of recrimination at home. In 1958, de Gaulle, then president of France, vetoed Morand's election to the Académie Française, only to consent to it ten years later. By then such reversals had become standard practice in France, in this case serving to sugarcoat Morand's embrace of fascism as just another aspect of his inveterate dandyism.
Jean Giraudoux was among Morand's closest friends and colleagues. He knew England and America well, and spoke English fluently. An aesthete, he wrote in a style elegant and subtle, suffused with irony. He too littered his work with aspersions against the Jews. In an autobiographical book published in 1939, he stated that “we are in complete agreement with Hitler in proclaiming that [national] policy attains its superior form only when it is racial.” As for Jews, he had been taken to meet a family from Eastern Europe and found them “black and inert, like leeches in a jar.” “The Jews,” he wrote, “sully, corrupt, rot, corrode, debase, devalue everything they touch.” On the eve of war, he was appointed to run the Commission for Information, supposedly as a counter to the propaganda ministry run by Goebbels in Nazi Germany but in fact complementing the latter's racial opinions. In Paris throughout the occupation, Giraudoux mingled socially with German officials and collaborators; a play of his was staged there in 1943. His death early the following year saved him from being brought to account.
Paul Claudel (1868-1955) combined a diplomatic career with the pursuit of literature. A high Catholic and a political conservative, very much a man of the world, he seemed a contemporary standard-bearer of the values and tradition of pre-Revolutionary France. Saint Louis and Joan of Arc, whom he constantly invoked, were living symbols for him. When W.H. Auden wrote that “time . . . will pardon Paul Claudel,/Pardons him for writing well,” he was expressing the view of his generation that in spite of his obvious limitations, Claudel was a literary star of the first rank, a French Yeats or Eliot.
Claudel's father and sister, he later acknowledged, had been admirers of the notorious anti-Semitic polemicist Edouard Drumont, and during the Dreyfus affair he himself had not been “on the right side.” His first foreign posting, in 1893, was as French consul in New York. Soon afterward he was sent for six years to China. As late as 1910, by which time Dreyfus had been rehabilitated, Claudel was writing to his fellow Catholic Charles Péguy, a militant for the faith but a Dreyfusard, “I have difficulty understanding how you can deny the role of Jewry in this affair. I have lived in all the countries of the world, and everywhere I have seen the newspapers and public opinion in the hands of the Jews. I was in Jerusalem in December 1899 and at the moment of the second condemnation [of Dreyfus] I saw the rage of those lice with a human face who live in Palestine on the razzias [desert raids] which their kith and kin operate against Christianity.”
In the early years of the 20th century, Claudel began portraying Jewish characters for literary effect. Ali Habenichts and Sichel are the names he gives to a Jewish father and daughter in a trilogy of plays. Money-making, the drive to assimilate, and the absence of any patriotism are their distinguishing traits. Claudel has Sichel say: “For us Jews, there's no little scrap of earth so large as a gold coin.”
In the 20's Claudel was ambassador in Tokyo and then Washington (where he received Morand). But his outlook seems to have evolved somewhat when one of his sons married the daughter of Paul-Louis Weiller, a prominent French Jew who was the managing director of a leading manufacturer of aircraft engines. In 1935, Weiller appointed Claudel to the board of this company, paying him a large salary; perhaps fortuitously, Claudel then wrote an open letter to the World Jewish Congress objecting to the Nuremberg race laws as “abominable and stupid legislation directed against those of your religion in Germany.”
Apparently his new mood was variable. The demise of the Third Republic's parliamentary regime in June 1940 enthused Claudel. After 60 years, he wrote in his diary, France had finally been delivered “from the yoke of the radical and anti-clerical party (professors, lawyers, Jews, freemasons).” The replacement of democracy by an authoritarian system based on Catholic values had long been his ideal. He knew Marshal Pétain, who had voted for his election to the Academy in 1935. On the other hand, he disapproved of unqualified collaboration with Germany as was recommended by some Catholics. Already in his early seventies by now, Claudel retired to his country house in the non-occupied zone.
On October 6, 1940, Paul-Louis Weiller was arrested on trumped-up charges. Claudel went to Vichy to intercede for him, but to no effect. Soon afterward, Weiller's French citizenship was revoked, and his property was confiscated; released from prison, he managed to escape to New York. On December 27, Claudel published an ode to Pétain, presenting him as the national savior and an almost saintly figure. To an interviewer after the war, he would explain his enthusiasm for Pétain with the phrase, “He took me in.”
Be that as it may, on December 24, 1941, Claudel wrote to the chief rabbi of France, expressing “the disgust, horror, and indignation that all decent Frenchmen and especially Catholics feel in respect of the injustices, the despoiling, all the ill treatment of which our Jewish compatriots are now the victims.” Catholics, he concluded, could never forget that “Israel is always the eldest son of the promise [of God], as it is today the eldest son of suffering.” The rank of “Ambassadeur de France” after his signature added to this act of civil courage. When the letter was published, the Vichy authorities, who suspected Claudel of having facilitated Weiller's flight abroad, duly searched his house and kept him under observation. In September 1944, in keeping with the twists and turns of that tormented period, Claudel published an ode to de Gaulle, as embarrassing in its high-flown obsequiousness as his earlier ode to Pétain.
Claudel was one of the earliest to understand that the Holocaust was an event like no other, a stain forever on Christian Europe. But he also thought there might be something “providential” about it, a “redeeming effectiveness.” For the remainder of his life, he pondered in his visionary manner on “the mystery of Israel” and its “vocation.” His support of the state of Israel was genuine, however, and marked a complete reversal of the animus against “lice with a human face” that had once possessed him. Still, the place of the Jews in the modern world remained, for him, in question. Jews were a people apart but also “ecumenical,” possessors of the Holy Land not through any historic link or right but as ambassadors of humanity, with “a message addressed to man as he emerged pure from the hands of his Creator.” Even for someone trying sincerely to come to grips with the meaning of the events of his time, Jews were evidently not to be seen as human beings like any other but as agents of other purposes, now lower, now higher.
The Rescue of the Mufti
“We hate France—it is the enemy of Islam and religion because it is governed by atheists and Jews.” Thus spoke one Arab nationalist propagandist among many on Mussolini's Radio Rome in 1938. Along similar lines, a tract distributed throughout North Africa contained the words: “The Jew feeds on you [Arabs] as vermin feed on sheep; France protects him; he is the agent of France, the tool of France. Germany is arresting and persecuting Jews and confiscating their possessions. If you weren't the slaves of France, you could do the same.”
The collapse of France in 1940 and its subsequent occupation by Germany exhausted the country's moral and political authority as an imperial power. Although, as leader of the Free French, General de Gaulle would make a speech promising independence to French colonies and mandates in the Middle East, this was a promise he evidently had no intention of keeping any time soon. Nevertheless, Arab nationalists in North Africa and the Levant saw themselves as having been invited to rebel and seize power.
On May 8, 1945, the day marking Allied victory in Europe, Algerians rioted in the provincial town of Setif. Over 100 French people were killed, and as many injured. In the reprisals that followed, at least 6,000 Algerians died. At the same time, law and order broke down in Syria and Lebanon. Over 400 Syrians were killed, and the parliament in Damascus was destroyed. British forces temporarily stationed in Syria and Lebanon as a result of the war ordered the much weaker French units back to their barracks, in effect negating French rule and handing independence to both countries. In the National Assembly, the French foreign minister Georges Bidault warned the British with a Latin tag: “Hodie mihi, crastibi”—today me, tomorrow you.
That same May, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the notorious mufti of Jerusalem, along with his staff of some sixteen aides and the officer assigned to him by the Nazi Gestapo, left what had been German-occupied Silesia and fled to Switzerland. Denied asylum there, he and his entourage found themselves in the hands of the French authorities.
Haj Amin had been responsible for rejecting any notion of partitioning Palestine between Arabs and Jews, and for precipitating the Arab revolt of 1936 in which many British personnel as well as Jews and Arabs had been killed. With French connivance, he had escaped in 1938 to Lebanon, going on to participate in the 1941 anti-British coup in Iraq before finally fleeing to Berlin. Wartime photographs show him in his clerical robes and turban in the company of Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and Eichmann, both privately and at public occasions, including a tour of Auschwitz. After the Allies invaded North Africa in November 1942 and the Germans took over Vichy France, Haj Amin urged Hitler to exploit the local populations of both places in order to break “the Judeo-Anglo-Saxon stranglehold.” He also recruited a Bosnian Muslim division for the SS, an act for which the Americans, the British, and the Yugoslavs wanted him extradited as a war criminal.
On May 11, 1945, the ministry of the interior briefed the Quai d'Orsay that Haj Amin was considered “the brains of German espionage in all Muslim countries.” The next day, the French embassy in Cairo confirmed what was to become policy. “The mufti has certainly betrayed the Allied cause,” the telegram ran. “But he has above all betrayed Britain without affecting us directly. Seemingly, therefore, nothing obliges us to undertake any action in his regard that could harm us in the Arab countries.” The main point was that Haj Amin held the future of Palestine in his hands at a time when “the problem of Palestine remains open.”
On May 18, in a note marked “Urgent,” Jean Chauvel, now secretary general of the Quai d'Orsay, confirmed to the minister of war that Haj Amin was “capable of imposing himself on the Muslim community.” By May 23 Chauvel had informed the relevant embassies that “in spite of the very heavy accusations weighing against him, Haj Amin is to be treated with consideration.” The reason given was his “religious prestige.” An unsigned note of May 30, apparently in Chauvel's handwriting, asserts that “at the moment when [British] policy . . . is tending to throw us completely out of Syria, we must make use of the strong personality who has fallen into our hands and above all refuse to deliver him to our English friends.”
Haj amin was housed in a villa in the Paris suburbs. With him were two secretaries and a cook supplied by the Paris mosque. The Quai d'Orsay's go-between, Henri Ponsot, a former high commissioner and ambassador in Syria, was impressed by the mufti's “certain air of dignity and aristocratic grace,” as well as by his intellect and his correct French. As for war crimes, Haj Amin claimed that he knew nothing about extermination camps and had never heard of “Karl Hichman” (Ponsot's garbled version of Adolf Eichmann). Approvingly, Ponsot passed on Haj Amin's view that, since Britain was unable “to break loose from the influence that the Jewish world exercised on its politics,” France and the Arab states should come to an accord to settle the future of both Syria and Palestine. What Haj Amin offered, Ponsot reported on June 26, was either a “positive” collaboration, in return for which he promised to calm the general Arab agitation concerning Syria, or, almost as good, a “negative” collaboration, in which case he would provoke crises in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, and Transjordan “to the benefit of our own policy.” (These words of Ponsot's are lightly scratched out on the document.)
At the end of July, Haj Amin was moved into a comfortable country house where he could receive visitors, walk in the park under supervision, and visit Paris, where the couturier Lanvin cut him a civilian suit. The documents hint at financial and material help in an atmosphere of growing good will. Reporting on August 14 to the Quai d'Orsay on a visit to the mufti, Louis Massignon, France's most distinguished Orientalist scholar, could not resist confiding that they had spoken Arabic together and that he had addressed the mufti as “za-'imnaa,” our leader. Haj Amin, Massignon wrote, “is persuaded that he can launch a durable Franco-Arab cooperation,” and had asked permission to meet Arab diplomats since “time was pressing, if the Zionists attack.”
Already there was talk in the ministry of letting Haj Amin go free. Should the British insist on having him brought to trial, Chauvel commented in October, “we should probably be obliged to have the party slip directly into Switzerland.” In April 1946, the French press published an officially inspired announcement that the government would not prevent Haj Amin's departure to an Arab country. Taking the hint, he left Orly airport on a TWA flight to Cairo. Under the name of a retainer who had been with him in Nazi Germany, and wearing his new Lanvin suit, he traveled on a false Syrian passport. Once in Cairo he held regular interviews with members of the French legation there, who praised his “quite particular interest in French cultural activity” while also expressing certain reservations about his trustworthiness.
On October 11, Haj Amin declared his official thanks to the French government for its hospitality and its tacit approval of his escape. In a secret annex, he reiterated a favorite theme: the British and American governments were in the hands of the Jews, just as had been the case in Germany, “where, thanks to the natural simplicity of the leaders, the Jews prior to Hitler had taken hold of all the commanding reins.” Now, he told the French, there was a chance for “your civilization, your spirituality, and your liberalism” to bring about an accord with the Arabs.
From Cairo, Haj Amin went to Lebanon. Still in touch with French officials, he did his best to orchestrate his “negative” policy of violence against the emerging state of Israel, a policy that extended the ruin of the Palestinian Arabs and has bedeviled the Middle East ever since.
For his contemporaries, Louis Massignon revitalized the belief that France was indeed a “Muslim power”—and that the duty of Jews was to accommodate themselves to other peoples' conceptions of them. Born in 1883, Massignon was a particularly brilliant misfit, a fabulist with a personality strong enough to persuade interlocutors that the quirks of his imagination corresponded to the movements of the real world. He spread mystification right through the Quai d'Orsay, to lasting effect.
In Cairo and Baghdad before World War I, Massignon learned the languages of the Middle East and initiated the research that led to a professorship at the Collège de France and a growing reputation as an Orientalist. The special object of his study as a scholar was Mansur al-Hallaj, a medieval Shiite mystic tortured to death as a heretic in Baghdad in 922. A Spanish friend, Luis de Cuadra, introduced him to the homosexual debauchery of Cairo. Soon afterward, consumed by remorse, he had a religious epiphany, a vision of what he called “the divine fire.” He believed that he, too, had a religious vocation, one that would be accompanied by martyrdom as suffered by both Jesus and al-Hallaj.
Marriage hardly interfered with Massignon's incessant travels or his work. Paul Claudel, a longstanding friend and a witness at Massignon's wedding, wrote to him from Prague on February 8, 1911, “You would make an incomparable agent. I have dropped the word to my friend Berthelot, to whom I must introduce you one day.” Although the Massignon files in the Quai d'Orsay remain closed, enough is in the public domain to show that he indeed acted as some sort of roving ambassador, engaging in secret and confidential work. Loosely identified as the head of a “scientific mission,” he traveled on a diplomatic passport. Algeria, Morocco, and Syria were among his special areas of concern, and in one of his books he would admit to “sailing under false colors in Damascus from 1920 to 1945.”
In 1917, as a member of the Georges-Picot mission, Massignon was present when the British captured and entered Jerusalem. So, we have seen, was T.E. Lawrence. Speaking to one another in Arabic, they were two of a kind; just as Lawrence always suspected the worst of the French, so Massignon always suspected the worst of the British.
For Massignon as for Claudel, Jews were a theological “mystery,” conducting their private dialogue with God to the imagined ultimate benefit of Christianity. He took his time deciding how Zionism fit or failed to fit into his Catholic scheme of things. Work on the land might be redemptive for a few proletarian Jews, but in the background, he warned as early as 1920, was “the horrible Israel of cosmopolitans, bankers with no country of their own who have exploited Anglo-Saxon imperialism, . . . eating you down to the bone.” Visiting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in 1934 he detected “powerful financial interventions” that alone enabled Zionism to survive. The conviction hardened in him that only “a Franco-Islamic bloc” could save the Holy Land, indeed the whole Middle East.
In a 1939 article, Massignon deplored how “Germanized Ashkenazim have taken the Palestinian issue into their hands, with the perfect and implacable technique of the most exasperating of colonialisms: slowly pushing the Arab ‘natives’ toward the desert.” At the outbreak of war he served under Giraudoux, directing propaganda to Muslim countries. His state of mind at the time is revealed in a remark he made to a devoted pupil who had converted to Islam: “My country is the Arab world.” In the same spirit he had once written to Claudel, “It is in Arabic no doubt that [God] is pleased that I should one day serve Him.” Out of mortification, he fasted during Ramadan.
After the war, Massignon campaigned with passionate fury against the creation of the state of Israel. Any agreement struck with Zionists was intrinsically wrong—the Jewish national home was “an imposture in which we should not be accomplices”—and would serve only to “convulse our North Africa.” Not really a nation, Jewry “signifies nothing unless it lives through spirituality, and if this spirituality is exclusive, as it is trying to ensure against the Muslim Arabs, it will be a catastrophe.” He founded a committee to help lobby for the cause, and above all for retaining the holy places in French-Catholic hands. In an extended polemic in print, he maintained that the infamous blood libel accusing the Jews of needing Christian blood for their rites had an authentic historical basis.
The United Nations vote in November 1947 in favor of partition—in which the Quai d'Orsay concurred—appalled Massignon. His frequent articles in Catholic publications like Témoignage Chrétien and L'Aube became infused with religiosity and political hysteria. According to him, Christian or Muslim recognition of Israel had no value in law. The “State-without-a-Messiah of Israel” had been formed at the expense of the Arabs, who were “victims of repulsive Yankee technology.” Obsessed with the Virgin Mary, he insisted that “the world will never know a just peace until Israel [i.e., Jews] reconsiders its rejection of the mother of Jesus.” Visiting the state of Israel in February 1949, he felt his “heart pierced by the ignominiousness of the Jews.” An angry Claudel broke off a lifetime's friendship, noting in his diary that Massignon “has gone off the rails as usual.”
In 1950, in Cairo, the city where he had discovered his homosexuality, Massignon took holy orders as a priest in the eastern Melkite church. After his death in 1963, many a Quai d'Orsay colleague would lament the loss of a genius. Then and ever since, Massignon's learning and showmanship have served to reinforce the Quai d'Orsay in its collective predisposition in favor of Arabs and in its view that it is better equipped to define Jews, and to ordain their path, than are Jews themselves.
“A Pernicious Example and a Great Peril”
Nominally a victor in World War II, France was in reality more like one of the defeated. Its standing in the world had to be rebuilt virtually from scratch. The same may be said for the Quai d'Orsay.
In 1945, somewhere between 100 and 200 former French soldiers or members of the Resistance were granted admission to the “career” without an examination. That year also saw the founding of the Ecole nationale d'administration (ENA), whose purpose was to train civil servants; thereafter, a handful of its graduates would become diplomats. In theory this was a new dispensation, but in practice the old institutional mindset survived intact. As far as the Middle East was concerned, Zionism was seen as more of a danger than ever to what French diplomats were convinced would otherwise be a smooth and equitable relationship with Arab countries.
There are numerous attestations to this persistent attitude. As the historian Jean-Baptiste Duroselle has mildly observed, the first postwar foreign minister, Georges Bidault, was “not unreceptive to the arguments of the Islamists in the Quai d'Orsay.” Christian Pineau, a subsequent foreign minister well disposed toward Israel (and by chance the son-in-law of Jean Giraudoux), would write frankly in his autobiography that the Quai d'Orsay's Middle East policy was motivated by a “more or less conscious” anti-Semitism. Chauvel, the secretary general, used to caution journalists against Pineau and do what he could to frustrate the minister's initiatives. In his own memoirs Chauvel makes the revealing remark that at the end of the war, “Jews and Communists, formerly untouchables and moreover deported or living underground, had been reintegrated with honor into the community.”
The archives similarly expose the predispositions of the Quai d'Orsay. Early in 1945, a committee was set up “to examine the different problems posed by the Jewish question.” The committee seemed a hangover from Vichy. Its chairman, Henri Ponsot, considered one of the department's most eminent authorities on the Middle East, was at the same time regularly calling on the mufti, Haj Amin, to flatter and promote him. The Holocaust and its consequences feature in the archives only in a contorted and euphemistic style. This, for example, is from an April 15, 1945 report on postwar prospects:
It is probable that many Israelites who were obliged under one pressure or another to leave their country of origin or their residence would not like to return there. One can ask if on the one hand it might be useful to include in the peace treaties minority clauses in favor of Israelites, and if on the other hand it will be desirable to favor, by some means or other, their establishment either in Palestine or in another territory to be decided.
The committee rapidly concluded that Zionism faced “insurmountable obstacles” and Palestine was not the right place for a Jewish state.
Zionists with whom French diplomats were in contact are reviled or condescended to in various documents. David Ben-Gurion is said to be “avid with ambition.” At the top right-hand corner of a personal dossier devoted to him are the hand-written words, “Nationality: Jewish.” The dossier of Moshe Shertok (afterward Sharett) carries the same identification, and a separate note says, “Like all his compatriots he is highly gifted as a journalist of propaganda, but much less as a politician.” Abba Eban “possesses the art of playing offended and making a travesty of facts.” Of Menachem Begin the French consul in Haifa, Pierre Landy, wrote: “Of modest demeanor, he has the humble exterior of a small merchant.”
French representatives in Cairo and Beirut, Damascus and Amman, insisted more and more urgently that any support for Zionism or the nascent state of Israel was bound to aggravate Arab nationalism and therefore to harm French interests. Moral issues, right or wrong, were not involved; power was at stake. Armand du Chayla, minister in Lebanon, compared the prospective Jewish state with wartime Japan; its “exacerbated will to power” was bound to lead to a similar catastrophe. Others in the department built their case on the alleged need to protect France's cultural and religious presence in the Holy Land.
Although France finally voted in favor of partition, beforehand it took whatever diplomatic measures were available to it both in the United Nations and elsewhere to avert or delay the vote. Alexandre Parodi, its delegate to the UN, would later explain that his country had been motivated by the desire to maintain good relations with the Arab world. If so, its final vote in favor of partition was a travesty, or so an anonymous official at the Quai d'Orsay pointed out to the foreign minister, writing that France was now a “banana republic,” unable to hold its own against Britain (which had abstained in the voting).
In a diary entry of June 29, 1948, six weeks after Israel declared statehood, Vincent Auriol, then president of the Republic, recorded a meeting with Parodi. The latter was now of the view that a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab world was a guarantee of stability, and so in France's interest, but that matters should have been handled in such a way as to avoid anything like a defeat for the Arabs. No doubt out of some such consideration, France would refuse de-facto recognition of Israel until January 1949, and de-jure recognition until four months later. Such were the tergiversations and self-deceptions to which policy had sunk.
René Neuville was consul general in Jerusalem from 1946 to 1952. Undoubtedly intelligent, he was as narrow-minded as he was sincere. His inability to come to terms with the idea of a Jewish state offers a case study in the formation of policy within the Quai d'Orsay.
Jews, Neuville wrote in a lengthy dispatch dated April 12, 1947, were “racist through and through . . . quite as much as their German persecutors and in spite of their democratic pretensions.” From biblical times onward, they had striven to inculcate within themselves the sense of being God's chosen people, and this bred a xenophobia and fanaticism that could not be ascribed to mere national feeling. The Zionist press, he further adduced, “displays beyond all possible doubt the ancestral traits of a completely Oriental cast of mind.” Jews were on no account to be allowed any control over the holy places, and should be denied statehood.
In an equally characteristic report dated April 4, 1948, Neuville warned that the founding of a Jewish state would mean the death of any hopes once placed in the UN, a victory of “obscurantism over enlightenment . . . a pernicious example and a great peril.” At the same time, Neuville foresaw an Arab victory in the hostilities to come, although he feared that this would itself lead to the danger of greater Arab militancy in French North Africa.
In April 1950, Neuville escorted his superior Jean Binoche on a week's visit around Israel. In a note to the Quai d'Orsay, Binoche said of Neuville that “he is susceptible, stormy, and bitter, but he has an ardor that I cannot find much exemplified in the people of our house.” He recommended keeping Neuville in place, adding the thought that he should be brought to confer in Paris along with the ambassadors in both Israel and Jordan. “Today,” according to the wistful Binoche, “it is indispensable for the department to define clearly the French political line.”
The coup mounted in Cairo in 1952 by Gamal Abdel Nasser and other so-called Free Officers transformed Arab nationalism and pan-Islamism into popular causes. In one Arab country after another, and especially throughout French North Africa, claimants to power soon imitated Nasser. One of them was the National Liberation Front—FLN in its French acronym—in Algeria.
In November 1954, a series of violent terrorist acts signaled the opening of the FLN's campaign for independence. Nasser's radio station, the Voice of the Arabs, regularly incited the FLN; its leaders had their headquarters in Cairo, and Nasser supplied them clandestinely with arms. Lasting for eight bloody years, the conflict brought something approaching civil war in France itself, and the return of General de Gaulle to power. Meanwhile, the ups and downs of French policy had unforeseen but dramatic repercussions affecting the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
As a prime target of Nasser and Arab nationalism, Israel unexpectedly acquired a community of interest with France—or rather with certain French decision-makers. Thus, the ministry of defense and the leaders of the armed forces collaborated unconditionally with Israel, in the belief that doing so would help overthrow Nasser and preserve French Algeria. Apart from a few hostile Catholic publications, the media were also supportive of Israel, as was public opinion at large. Guilt over wartime deportations figured as an element in the mix; so did admiration for Israel's spirit of self-determination. All this constituted an open—but partial—repudiation of the Quai d'Orsay and its ingrained pro-Arabism.
Arms sales alone were what gave France any importance in the Middle East. In the Israeli view, it was urgent to procure aircraft, tanks, and heavy artillery to prevent Nasser from exploiting the military edge conferred on him by the Soviet Union. While the United States and Britain took cover behind a declaration not to supply weapons to belligerents in the region, French manufacturers and the ministry of defense rushed to accommodate Israel. For its part, the Quai d'Orsay did what it could to block sales outright or to ensure that deliveries were too minimal to be effective.
The inter-ministerial fighting had something conspiratorial about it. Pierre-Etienne Gilbert, ambassador in Israel from 1953 to 1959 and altogether exceptional among his colleagues, was the first French diplomat openly to admire the Jewish state. Gilbert introduced Israel's defense establishment to its counterparts in Paris: Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury, the minister of defense, and Abel Thomas, his chief of staff. In Comment Israël fut sauvé, “How Israel Was Saved,” Thomas recalls “our quarrels and our chicaneries with the Quai d'Orsay,” and how “it was agreed that the administration of the Quai would in no case be involved” in policy concerning Israel. Consistently, the Quai d'Orsay reacted with anger and frustration; in March 1956, Pierre Maillard of the Afrique-Levant department informed an Israeli interlocutor that French-Israeli arms deal were an aberration, and there was no basis for cooperation between the two countries.
Egypt's September 1955 arms deal with Czechoslovakia, followed by nationalization of the Suez Canal the next July, were defining events of Nasser's career. The French and Israeli governments were of one mind: only a preemptive war could eliminate the danger Nasser now presented to them both. Prime Minister Guy Mollet undertook to persuade the hesitant British to join what became the real conspiracy behind the 1956 Suez campaign. It was encapsulated in Foreign Minister Pineau's advice to the ministry of defense: “Above all, not a word to the Quai d'Orsay!”
But animosity and secrecy among those making vital decisions did not—could not—result in successful coordination. Fatefully, the United States intervened, obliging the British and French to withdraw their invading forces and then compelling Israel to evacuate Sinai and the Gaza strip. In 1957, in a compensatory gesture, France agreed to build for Israel a nuclear plant at Dimona, an installation more up-to-date than anything the French themselves possessed at the time. From that point on, the France-Israel relationship declined in inexorable stages.
Nasser's emergence as the political victor of the Suez campaign inflated Arab nationalism into the prime ideology of the Middle East. The FLN was evidently going to gain power in Algeria, the French army to lose it. In 1958, emerging from seclusion, de Gaulle once more enacted his role as national savior. Even as the Suez campaign ushered in the Fifth Republic, it transformed the Arab-Israeli dispute into one of the most complex of international issues.
Methodically, the Quai d'Orsay began the French disengagement from Israel. In 1959, in deference to the Arab economic boycott, it managed to cancel a contract to assemble Renault cars under license in Haifa. The following year, Ben-Gurion met de Gaulle at the Elysée Palace; the Quai d'Orsay was at pains to ensure that this was not seen as a state visit, and that the Israeli flag would not fly at Ben-Gurion's hotel.
In an official report presented to de Gaulle in 1963, Jean Chauvel wrote that Israel displayed “a heterogeneous character in relation to everything surrounding it.” This euphemism for Israeli aberrancy led to the conclusion that, since good Franco-Israeli relations “in no way gain France any credit in Arabia,” closer cooperation between Arabs and France “is not only acceptable, it is desired.” Under Maurice Couve de Murville, de Gaulle's long-standing foreign minister and a critic of the Suez campaign (and advocate of Algerian independence), the Quai d'Orsay took revenge for the Pineau years by, as the historians Samir Kassir and Farouk Mardam-Bey have put it, successfully reaffirming its old “Muslim policy.”
The hitch was that the constitution of the Fifth Republic had handed the conduct of foreign policy to the president, with the result that the Quai d'Orsay's role was reduced to advice and administration. Always idiosyncratic, de Gaulle enacted a policy often grounded more in personality than in political reality. Although there are numerous testimonies to his professed admiration for Israel and its achievements, it is also true that he had once been influenced by Charles Maurras, an ardent enemy of Jews. As for Arabs, Ambassador Gilbert quotes de Gaulle as saying that they were “all passion, sometimes even demented. What can you do with that?” In all likelihood, his deepest belief was that Jews and Arabs, like everyone else, had to serve the purposes he allotted to them.
Above all, de Gaulle aspired to great-power status for France, and toward that end he sought to maneuver between the United States and the Soviet Union, playing them off against each other and eventually removing France from NATO. The hope was that this brand of militant neutrality would muster the whole third world behind him. Pineau, the former foreign minister, spoke for many in noting that de Gaulle felt “a mortal hatred” for the British and the U.S. Increasingly resentful of the latter's projection of power in the Middle East, de Gaulle suspended aid to Israel's nuclear plant; played cat-and-mouse games over sales of arms and aircraft to Israel; and, after signing a peace treaty with Algeria, issued instructions to his new ambassador in Cairo to adopt “a more liberal attitude toward Nasser.” When Abba Eban, the Israeli foreign minister, expressed anxiety in early 1966 over Israel's relationship with France, an irritated Couve de Murville replied that “General de Gaulle doesn't have to be patting you ceaselessly on the shoulder to reassure you.”
In a series of political and military miscalculations, Nasser precipitated the Six-Day war of 1967. During the run-up to the crisis, France embargoed the delivery of offensive weapons to the Middle East, a move affecting only Israel. In a meeting with Abba Eban, de Gaulle warned Israel not to fire the first shot. (“They didn't listen to me!,” he was to exclaim in anger and hurt pride a few days later.) He also told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that the West would thank him one day for remaining “the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments.”
After the war, Roger Seydoux, now France's permanent representative at the United Nations, lost no time declaring that Israel's reunification of Jerusalem was “inopportune and not founded in law.” Israeli assurances of free access to the holy places “touched on questions of sovereignty to which we cannot remain indifferent.” That November, de Gaulle ranted in public that the Jews were “an elite people, self-assured and domineering,” and possessed of “a burning ambition for conquest.” In the ensuing scandal, de Gaulle pretended that his abusive generalizations had been intended as compliments.
In January 1969, in response to Palestinian hijackers operating out of Lebanon, Israeli commandos blew up thirteen civil aircraft in Beirut. Nobody was hurt in this largely symbolic action. “It's unbelievable, without any sense,” de Gaulle nevertheless thundered. “They think they can do as they like.” The arms embargo was now extended to all weapons, defensive as well as offensive. France thereby renounced any influence it had on Israel (as the political thinker Raymond Aron argued at the time in a polemic of great force). Meanwhile, René Massigli, highly respected as a former ambassador to London and later as secretary general of the Quai d'Orsay, spoke for the foreign-policy establishment by repeating in print the shopworn canard that French Jews who supported Israel were guilty of dual loyalty.
Although de Gaulle had once been wary of the Quai d'Orsay, he too ended by speaking of France as a “Muslim power.” In his memoirs, his summary judgment was that “no strategic, political, or economic state of affairs [in the Middle East] will last unless it gets Arab support.” But his self-importance had stranded his country in contradiction, prejudice, and grudge. François Mauriac, a Nobel Prize winner and fervent Gaullist, wrote in 1969: “I saw men whom the General's policy toward Jerusalem had driven mad.” The Quai d'Orsay had won, but there was nothing to show for it.
As Arab immigration into France increased, successive French presidents extended de Gaulle's policy of closely linking France and the Arab states. In the decades after the 1967 war, France steadily nourished the ambition to lead what would become the European Union and to assemble a bloc powerful enough to rival the United States. In line with this, the principal objective in the Middle East was to broker a peace that would satisfy Arab demands on Israel and thus eliminate American influence.
Outright appeasement of the Arabs was complicated both by French self-interest and by Arab resentments over a lost heritage perceived as glorious. Measures nevertheless were taken. They included the pursuit of favorable oil contracts, especially in the aftermath of the 1973 war and the OPEC embargo; the sale of Mirage fighter planes to Libya and the building of the Osirak nuclear reactor for Iraq; a vote at the United Nations accusing Israel of committing war crimes in the occupied territories; the denial of landing rights to American aircraft during the 1973 Yom Kippur war; permission granted to the PLO to open an office in Paris, and the reception of Yasir Arafat at the Elysée Palace; and diplomatic initiatives to protect Saddam Hussein from the consequences of his multiple aggressions. With the exception of the former Soviet Union, no country did more than France to promote a PLO state, and thereby to endanger the existence of Israel.
Anti-Israel policies strengthened under Presidents Georges Pompidou, who served from 1969 until his sudden death in 1974, and his successor Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. The former was in all likelihood no more anti-Semitic than his mentor de Gaulle. The latter, too, may not have had anything personal against either Israel or Jews, yet his presidency from 1974 to 1981 intensified the harm done to them and the favoring of Arabs. At the outset of Giscard's term in office, and clearly at his direction, the Quai d'Orsay issued a PLO-influenced statement to the effect that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East had to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. Soon he sent his foreign minister, Jean Sauvagnargues, to Lebanon for an official meeting with Arafat; the secretary general of the Quai d'Orsay then helped set up the PLO office in Paris. In one rather mysterious incident, Abu Daoud, a terrorist at the head of the group responsible for the murder of Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich, was arrested for murder while in Paris but almost instantly released to Algeria. Eventually Giscard invited Arafat on an official visit to Paris.
The 1973 war deepened the fault lines among Western allies. Setting the countries of the European Community against the United States, Giscard refused to abstain from finalizing a deal for Iraq's nuclear plant and actively sought to replace the weakening Soviet Union as the chief arms supplier of Egypt and Syria. In language identical to the PLO's, he criticized the peace between Egypt and Israel sealed at Camp David in 1978. The analyst Maurice Szafran speaks of “open warfare” between France's Jews and Giscard.
Foreign ministers in this period uniformly supported the appeasement of Arab states. Of them all, the most single-minded was Michel Jobert, who took over the Quai d'Orsay in 1973. Born in Morocco, he spoke fluent Arabic and had once written a novel, set in his home town of Meknes, that featured obnoxious Jewish characters. French foreign policy, Jobert used to explain, was not pro-Arab but simply “active, a just reflection of the interests of France” in the Arab part of the world.
Succeeding Giscard as president, François Mitterrand—a 30's fascist, a Vichy official, a Gaullist, a socialist—was a man politically, morally, and personally corrupt. His presidency from 1981 to 1995 bore the stamp of his opportunistic personality and cynical intelligence. Quickly, Mitterrand demonstrated what Le Monde was to call his “talent for trickery.”
Mitterrand had once visited Israel, and now he let it be known that he intended to restore good relations with Jerusalem. But as his secretary Jacques Attali records in his published diary (Verbatim), Mitterrand covered his flanks by ordering two of his foreign-policy aides, Hubert Védrine (a future foreign minister) and Claude de Kemoularia, to make the rounds of Arab embassies in Paris and explain that “good contact between France and Israel will be in your interest.” Mitterrand's two-faced approach was exemplified by his condemnation of Israel's destruction of the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1982 followed by a fawning address to the Knesset some months later, or by his airy proposal of a federation of Jordan, Israel, and Arab Palestine that was incompatible with his role in preserving Arafat from the consequences of his multiple campaigns of violence and terrorist mayhem.
With characteristic equivocation, Mitterrand maintained the Quai d'Orsay as Europe's foremost official pro-Arab and anti-Israel lobby. Kemoularia, entrusted with confidential matters, had close connections to Saudi Arabia. For the first three years of Mitterrand's term, the foreign minister was Claude Cheysson, whose hostility to Israel was matched by his friendship with PLO representatives like Naim Khadir in Brussels. “My condemnation of Zionism is absolute,” he was to say once he was no longer minister. “The state of Israel created itself against the will of the rest of the world.”
Roland Dumas followed Cheysson in 1984. Within three months of taking office, Dumas visited Arafat in Tunis, where the PLO leader had taken refuge after his forced evacuation from Beirut. A lawyer, Dumas had helped defend Hilarion Capucci, a Greek Orthodox priest caught gun-running for the PLO, and he played a part in ensuring that the terrorist Abu Daoud was hurried out of the country in the 1970's. Air piracy, he was to tell a newspaper in December 1984, “was the only way for Palestinian resistance to smash international indifference.”
Under Cheysson, the Quai d'Orsay's secretary general was Francis Gutmann, parachuted into the ministry from a previous job with the Red Cross. A colleague of Jobert's, he had impeccable Arabist credentials. Later, the post went to another influential Arabist, Bertrand Dufourcq, who had served on the staffs of Couve de Murville, Cheysson, and Dumas. PLO documents captured by the Israeli army in Beirut in 1982 showed that French diplomats or their informers in Tel Aviv and Damascus had been leaking information about Israel's impending operation. In 1987 it emerged that the Quai d'Orsay was subsidizing an Arab lobby, the Cercle France-Pays Arabes. In return for such favors, ostensibly, Arafat brought himself to pronounce after another official visit to Paris in 1989 that the clauses of the PLO Charter calling for the destruction of Israel were “caduc,” null and void. As events were to prove, this unexpected display of mastery of French masked an empty promise.
France's current president, Jacques Chirac, began his career in the governments of de Gaulle and Pompidou, becoming prime minister under Giscard as well as Mitterrand before being elected president in 1996. In the several crises engulfing the Middle East during his tenure, Chirac has imitated his predecessors by taking issue with the “Anglo-Saxons,” a Vichy-style phrase loose enough to include the United States, Britain, and anyone else perceived to stand in France's way.
In April 1996, in a speech in Cairo, Chirac claimed that France intended to follow its traditional policies in the Middle East with renewed vigor. Visiting Jerusalem that October, and walking through the Old City, he accused Israeli security guards of closing in on him, pushing them away angrily with a gesture as symbolic as it was physical. At his next stop, in Ramallah, he declared that Arafat's Palestinian democracy might serve as an example to all Arab states. Moving on to Amman in Jordan, he denounced the Western sanctions on Saddam Hussein, with whom he had maintained a friendly relationship dating back to the mid-1970's. He advised Arafat not to sign at Camp David in 2000.
By means of supporting Arafat and Saddam, France was clearly hoping to lever itself into a position of mastery in areas where once Britain had been supreme and where the United States now had responsibility for keeping the peace. The end of the Oslo peace process and the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, the failure of the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq, the wrangling over Resolution 1441 at the UN and then the invasion of Iraq in 2003—all spurred Chirac and his administration to prolonged diplomatic activity in pursuit of this grand design. The results have hardly been impressive.
Recently the Quai d'Orsay has condemned Israel's efforts to contain Hizballah in southern Lebanon, and criticized the annexation of Rachel's Tomb near Bethlehem. The foreign ministry dragged out the effort to block the Hizballah television station al-Manar from spreading its hatred of Jews via a Paris-based satellite, and the French government still steadfastly refuses to designate Hizballah itself as a terrorist organization. Sophie Pommier, the official responsible for following Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, revealed her emotional involvement in her work by plastering the walls of her office with portraits of Arafat. French consulates have been forbidden from recognizing Jewish weddings solemnized by West Bank rabbis. Jacques Huntziger, the French ambassador to Israel, slammed his fist on the table and left the room when the parents of three Israeli soldiers captured by Hizballah asked him to intervene on their behalf after a visit by Chirac to Lebanon. Gérard Araud, the current French ambassador, declared in December 2004 that “Israelis suffer from a neurosis, a veritable mental disorder that makes them anti-French.” At a London dinner party, Daniel Bernard, ambassador to England and previously the Quai d'Orsay's official spokesman, called Israel “a shitty little country.” And so it goes.
As such pinpricks suggest, France today lacks the resources and the influence either to supplant the United States or to enlist the Arab world in its camp, to create a Palestinian state, or to dismantle Israel. Moreover, its nuisance value has rebounded on itself. Its chosen instruments, Saddam Hussein and Arafat, both proved untrustworthy: support for the former was evidently related to French profiteering from the UN oil-for-food scam, which dwarfed the corruption even of the Mitterrand era, and support for the latter had roots in obscure deals, protection rackets, and emotional anti-Americanism.
In the Middle East, France has forfeited whatever leverage it might once have enjoyed. At home, meanwhile, it has had to come to terms with a growing Arab underclass, one whose resentments and tendencies to violence have been whipped up in no small part by the inflexible hostility displayed by the French state to Jewish self-determination. The pursuit of une puissance musulmane, fitting Arabs and Jews into a grand design on French terms, has evidently been an intellectual illusion all along, and highly dangerous to the interests of everyone concerned.
1 “The career” (la carrière) was shorthand for employment as a diplomat, as though no other career were worthy of the name.