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An Open Letter to Emmanuel Macron, President of France

Why does France allow its sovereign territory in Jerusalem to be used as a staging ground for attacks on Jewish sovereignty in Israel?
French President Emmanuel Macron asks Israeli police to leave the 12th-century Church of Saint Anne in the Old City of Jerusalem on January 22, 2020. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron asks Israeli police to leave the 12th-century Church of Saint Anne in the Old City of Jerusalem on January 22, 2020. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

To the Honorable Emmanuel Macron, President of France:

I just saw a video of your confrontation with the Israeli police at St. Anne’s Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a brief vignette posted on Twitter, so I don’t know exactly what happened, but it looks like you were protecting the status of the church as sovereign French territory. It seems to be one of the goals you had for yourself before your current trip to Jerusalem.

I hope Israelis will reserve judgement about the confrontation. Like you said in the video, “Nobody has to provoke nobody.”

Words to live by!

I also hope the confrontation between you and the Israeli security officials doesn’t turn into a contretemps that gets distorted to make modern day Jews look like the folks who stoned St. Stephen all those years ago. Given that you praised Israeli security officials for protecting you while walking through the Old City, I don’t think it will.

But you never know. There’s a lot of demand for that sort of narrative these days and a lot of people in Jerusalem make a living meeting that demand. In fact, one person who has provided that sort of narrative, Yusef Daher, runs the Jerusalem Inter Church Center (JICC) whose office is located in St. Anne’s compound.  While he’s there, Daher enjoys the protection of French sovereignty, which you so ardently defended.

In the past, Daher has portrayed legitimate Israeli security measures at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as a huge act of oppression against Christians worldwide. For example, Daher has unfairly portrayed Israeli efforts to prevent a stampede outside the church as an evil act against Christians in Jerusalem.

But I digress . . .

Let’s face it. The Old City is a stressful place to be. It is imbued with a lot of religious meaning and for the unprepared, Jerusalem can be a rough place to visit. Part of the shock is to see all these ordinary people, sovereign Jews especially, living out their daily lives in a city that is as central to the Western imagination and memory as Athens, Paris and Rome.

As a wise Christian friend of mine who lives in the Holy Land once told me, “People come to the Holy Land with a lot of baggage. When they get off the plane in Tel Aviv their baggage gets multiplied by a factor of 10,” he said. “And when they step into Jerusalem it gets multiplied by 100.”

Given that French sovereignty over St. Anne’s dates back to the 1800s, it’s likely the Israelis will have some sympathy for you. They know the importance of protecting sovereignty. If there is one group of people who know the dangers of losing sovereignty even better than the French, it’s the Israelis.

It’s interesting to note that that one of your predecessors, Jacques Chirac generated some controversy when he visited St. Anne’s in 1996. Apparently, St. Anne’s is a pretty neuralgic place for French Presidents.

Vraiment!

Activists recruited by the World Council of Churches near the Church of St. Anne in the Old City of Jerusalem. These activists operate under the aegis of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine-Israel or EAPPI. EAPPI activists receive indoctrination from the Jerusalem Interchurch Center (JICC) an anti-Israel propaganda organization located on the property, which is sovereign French territory. (Photo: DMU Project, used with permission.)

I don’t mean to add to your headaches, but given that you just defended French sovereignty over St. Anne’s in the Old City of Jerusalem, I feel compelled to ask you some questions about how France administers the property. The central issue is this: Why does France allow its sovereign territory in Jerusalem to be used by the JICC, which is led by Daher, as a staging ground for ideological and theological attacks on Jewish sovereignty in Israel?

If you pardon the expression, that doesn’t seem . . . kosher.

I raised this question with the folks in France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2018 and no one got back to me.

I even asked officials from the White Fathers, the Catholic religious order that operates St. Anne’s. They were pretty tight-lipped, but the one thing they did say is that St. Anne’s Monastery enjoys diplomatic protection, “just like an embassy.”

So, here is the relevant text of an email that I sent to the folks in France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in an email sent, interestingly enough, on June 6, 2018:

I am currently writing an article about an organization called the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel (EAPPI). EAPPI is an institution of the World Council of Churches (WCC) that sends activists into Israel and the West Bank. The organization has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism from a number of institutions and commentators in Israel and elsewhere for its tendency to promote anti-Israel propaganda both in the Holy Land and in the home country of EAPPI activists.

EAPPI is closely affiliated with another WCC institution — the Jerusalem Interchurch Center — whose general secretary, a Palestinian Christian by the name of Yusef Daher, has posted ugly anti-Israel propaganda on his Facebook page.

I write to you because EAPPI is currently headquartered in the Church of St. Anne’s, a basilica located in Jerusalem’s Old City. The church, which is currently operated by the White Fathers, an order of Catholic missionaries, is located on French property given to France by the Ottoman Empire in the 1850s. The Ottoman Empire gave France the property out of gratitude for assistance given during the Crimean War. I also believe that the JICC is located in the same property. (I was at the property on Sunday, June 3, 2018 and saw that a French flag flies over the property.)

I am currently asking both the World Council of Churches and the White Fathers questions about the presence of the EAPPI and the JICC on the property of the Basilica, but I also need some information from the French government. My questions are:

  1. Is the property in question sovereign French territory? (If yes, does this confer any special diplomatic protection to the operations of the EAPPI and JICC?) I ask this question, because the language I see in articles indicates that the property is “owned” by the French government, but “entrusted” to the White Fathers.
  2. Am I correct in my belief that the JICC is also headquartered in St. Anne’s?
  3. Who made the decision to allow EAPPI and JICC to put their headquarters on the property?
  4. Did the French Government or anyone in the French diplomatic corps agree to allowing EAPPI and JICC to put their offices on the property or was this decision made exclusively by the White Fathers?
  5. Is anyone in the French government or diplomatic corps concerned about the use of French property to house organizations that promote anti-Zionist propaganda. [Sic]
  6. What would happen if the shoe were on the other foot and Israeli-owned property in France was used to de-legitimize France? (I know that this is a challenging question, but it seems like a reasonable one to ask.)

I don’t mean to be a nudge, Mr. President, but in light of your ardent defense of French sovereignty over St. Anne’s, these questions seem perfectly reasonable to ask.

I hear tell that lot of Jews are leaving France and it just doesn’t seem right to help make their lives more difficult in their new home.

Je vous attend!

Sincerely,

Dexter Van Zile

About the Author
Dexter Van Zile is Shillman Research Fellow at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.
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