Supporting terrorists, attacking soldiers and police and funding extremist organizations. The case of an official representative of France caught smuggling arms from Gaza to Judea and Samaria is the latest in a long chain of problematic activity
When reports surfaced in the international media of a serious security incident involving an employee of a foreign consulate stationed in Israel, my first guess was that there was a good chance that the French consulate in Jerusalem was involved.
Apart from its role as the official diplomatic representative of France in Jerusalem and the various services it provides the city’s residents, consulate employees themselves have recorded a very problematic history over the years with regards to their attitude towards the country that hosts them. This is not the first time they have taken an active part in the struggle against the State of Israel.
The details of the incident were clarified in an official statement by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) – Roman Frank, a driver with the French consulate in Jerusalem, who holds a diplomatic passport and is therefore entitled to immunity and ease of checking at border crossings, was arrested after a weapons smuggler from Gaza was apprehended in Judea and Samaria.
Frank took advantage of the diplomatic license plates in the vehicle he used to easily pass through checkpoints and roadblocks, smuggling in dozens of weapons in return for payment. Several collaborators from Israel and the Palestinian Authority were arrested along with him.
He received the weapons in Gaza, from a civilian employed at a French-funded cultural center, defined as a kind of official cultural attaché of France in Gaza. In one case, Frank received $700 in exchange for six guns. In another case, when 17 guns and rifles were transferred, the consular worker received a sum of NIS 10,500 for the smuggling.
This serious incident, where an official representative of a foreign government assists terrorist activity, joins a long list of cases in which French consulate employees were involved in problematic activities.
Until 2015, a woman named Elsa Forte, a diplomat and the daughter of an anti-Semitic activist in France who headed a virulent anti-Israel organization, was working at the consulate in Jerusalem. Forte is married to Salah Hamouri, a Palestinian terrorist who is sitting in an Israeli prison for planning the assassination of Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. In January 2016, Elsa tried to enter Israel, but her entry was denied after Israeli authorities discovered she was involved in hostile activities.
Two months earlier, another worker at the consulate was fired, having been found to have smuggled gold and cigarettes into Jordan. That same year, the consulate published a job proposal which referred to West Jerusalem as “Occupied Palestinian” territory, contrary to official French policy.
Then there was Marion Pasnau-Castaing, the cultural attache of the consulate, who in 2013 participated in a violent demonstration in the Jordan Valley, physically attacking Border Police officers in front of the cameras, and tried to help activists of extremist organizations to illegally build tents there.
The filmed scene quickly became a diplomatic incident, and it was quite clear that Castaing’s goal was to create a provocation like many of her anarchist friends. Finally, after pressure from various groups, she was expelled from the country.
Over the years, senior diplomats and junior staff at the consulate participated regularly in demonstrations against IDF soldiers, coordinated illegal construction in Area C (contrary to the Oslo Accords, which European countries are guarantees of) and blatantly intervened in the internal Israeli political discourse by embracing extremist organizations and NGOs.
According to quarterly reports of the Registrar of Non Profit Associations , in 2015 the French consulate transferred NIS 63,000 to “Breaking the Silence” for collecting testimonies about IDF soldiers, exactly the same year the organization’s report on Operation Protective Edge was published.
In the years 2014-2017, France transferred NIS 373,000 to B’Tselem for general support and various projects.
Small grants were transferred in the years 2013-2014 to Ir Amim, HaMoked: Center for Civil Rights in Israel and Al-Marsad – Arab Human Rights Centre in the Golan Heights, which is working to end the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and see its return to Syria, the great human rights defender.
Foreign missions in Israel have many roles, some more formal, some less, and all are involved in local politics in one way or another. There is no embassy or consulate in Israel that does not transfer money to non-governmental organizations, whether they are in the mainstream or whether they are organizations that the public classifies as extremists or those who are in opposition to the government.
But in the case of the French consulate, the excessive political involvement raises a number of fundamental questions: did these rogue diplomats have access to decision-making at the consulate? And if so, what does it mean for France’s discretion to fund such organizations? How should the Israeli public know that consulate employees have not exploited their status to deliberately manipulate the Israeli discourse, just as they have exploited their status to smuggle weapons and attack soldiers and police?
These are precisely the questions we ask at the NGO Monitor research institute, when we try to understand the extent to which anti-Israeli activists use their roles in official positions to advance their personal agenda.
For years, we have identified an interesting phenomenon in which radical political activists have played a role in the tier of decision makers involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict – from diplomats to senior officials to workers in international human rights organizations with huge budgets.
To the credit of the French authorities it is to be noted that, when the severity of the affair in which an official representative of theirs was caught smuggling weapons, they cooperated and immediately withdrew Frank’s immunity. Even in France they understood that a dangerous line was crossed, and the damage to the image of the Foreign Ministry would be severe.
Both sides did not want to turn the serious incident into a diplomatic incident and conducted it in a balanced and practical manner. However, it is important to emphasize that the security treatment of the incident, however professional, is only half of the solution.
Israeli elected officials and relevant government ministries must also deal with the political and diplomatic aspects of this event. Their obligation to the Israeli public is to ensure that foreign representatives who influence the discourse in Israel are not run by criminals.
If a foreign mission, operating without obstruction on Israeli soil, has as problematic a history as does that of the French, the appropriate authorities should bring these difficult questions before the French ambassador in Tel Aviv.
A critical dialogue should be conducted, and if necessary, the consul in Jerusalem should be summoned to a Knesset hearing and the Israeli public should be given the feeling that clear boundaries exist here, even for diplomats with immunity.
If the Israelis and the French reach the conclusion, in the dialogue, that something is amiss in the way that the consulate sees its role in Israel, they must set guidelines for its future conduct.
Of course, every diplomatic delegation has a gray area in which it operates, in accordance with formal and informal diplomatic norms that are silently agreed upon.
Yet, when a diplomatic mission is operating in the black zone, the response must be such that it will send a clear message to others as well. And if you want to know how to do this, always think about the question – how would the French react if Israeli diplomats smuggled weapons to terrorist organizations operating in France?
*(Translated from Mida.org.il Hebrew)
Itai Reuveni is Director of the Israel desk with NGO Monitor.
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