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Parlez-who? Lapid’s pick for Paris posting pilloried for being sans French

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Thirty-six French parliamentarians gathered in Jerusalem last month to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. One of the lawmakers, a non-Jewish MP with a long record of supporting Israel, begged the new prime minister to send an ambassador to fill the empty diplomatic post in Paris who could properly defend Israel, especially in the French press.

Bennett dodged the issue, saying the appointment was Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s call, a French source with knowledge of the meeting told The Times of Israel.

Lapid made his choice last week, tapping former health minister Yael German as Israel’s next envoy to France and saying that “German will do wonderful work representing Israel and its interests.”

German is talented and well-respected. After working in management roles in education and industry, she served for 15 years as the mayor of Herzliya. She entered the Knesset with Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party in 2013 and served as health minister from 2013 to 2014.

“She is fit for the job,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told The Times of Israel. “She has a ton of experience, professional and personal. She knows French and by the time she gets to France, she will know even more.”

But despite the widespread regard for German as a person and as a minister, many commentators and politicians — both French and Israeli — argue that she is the wrong person at the wrong time for the sensitive diplomatic posting, particularly due to the fact that her familiarity with the French language is not quite ready for prime time.

“In France particularly, knowledge of the language is critical,” said Maia Sion-Tzidkiyahu, director of the program on Israel–Europe relations at Mitvim. “It’s critical for the ability of the ambassador to reach media outlets, for example.”

With France indicating a desire to improve relations with Jerusalem, the ambassador will play a critical role as Israel looks to take advantage of an opportunity to move closer to one of Europe’s most powerful countries, one that Lapid has been actively courting.

“It’s a sign of chutzpah,” said Haim Arik Messika, a French immigrant who is active in French Likud circles in Israel. “It’s chutzpah to send someone like this… Not only that she doesn’t speak French. She doesn’t understand the culture. She doesn’t understand at all the culture of French Jews, and that’s the worst.”

With its influential position in the EU and on the United Nations Security Council, France’s importance to Israel goes well beyond the bilateral relationship. Currently, France is seen as flag-bearer for countries in the bloc that are harshly critical of Israel.

But that may soon change.

Eric Danon, France’s ambassador to Israel, told the visiting parliamentarians that French President Emmanuel Macron intends to reset relations with Israel if he is re-elected in 2022, according to a diplomatic source with knowledge of the meeting.

While Macron and Lapid have a warm personal relationship, France’s foreign ministry — often referred to as the Quai d’Orsay — under Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has been especially critical of Israel.

In May, Le Drian said Israel was at risk of “long-lasting apartheid” if the Palestinians didn’t obtain their own state.

But there have been some encouraging hints from French diplomats. According to diplomatic sources, the Quai d’Orsay has been shifting its attitude toward Israel somewhat since Lapid’s visit to Brussels in July.

France has expressed openness to re-establishing annual Association Council meetings between the EU and Israel, suspended since 2013.

Danon gave a surprisingly robust address during Bastille Day ceremonies on July 14, affirming the French-Israeli relationship and the joint........

© The Times of Israel

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