France has been swept by violent demonstrations, and one young demonstrator [17-year-old Nahel Marzouk] was shot and killed by police. CNN reported on July 4th that:
Nightly protests have erupted in cities across France and its overseas territories over the past week, with protesters expressing fury and accusations over how France’s marginalized communities are policed, and raising questions over whether race was a factor in Nahel’s death.
The French government has responded strictly to the continuing violent unrest, deploying more than 45,000 police and gendarmes across the country on Sunday night alone.
Over 2,000 people have been detained since protests began, with 157 detained overnight Sunday into Monday morning local time….
France has accordingly been moved, in the State Department’s travel advisory system, from Level 1 (“Exercise normal precautions”) to Level 2 (“Exercise increased caution”). The State web site says “Exercise increased caution in France due to terrorism and civil unrest.”
Israel is also at Level 2, both because of the risk of terrorism and civil unrest, and because “There has been a marked increase in demonstrations throughout Israel, some with little or no warning.” Unlike in France, the protests are non-violent, no one has been killed, and there are many fewer arrests—dozens, not hundreds or thousands.
Why this comparison? To highlight the very different reactions from the Biden administration. As to France (where President Macron’s pension reforms have elicited huge resistance) there is no desire to interfere in such domestic issues. There have been no comments to the effect that President Macron is riding rough-shod over parliament, France’s democracy is at risk, and the relationship between our two countries will be damaged if this continues.
But as to Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms, the administration has been interfering for months. President Biden has said “I'm very concerned….They cannot continue down this road.” He has also said "I hope he walks away from it.”
Most recently, Axios reported this on July 11:
The White House called on the Israeli government “to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly” after Israeli police made dozens of arrests and used force against protesters who rallied across the country against the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul.
Why it matters: The unusual statement by the White House on domestic issues of an ally like Israel signals the growing concern of the Biden administration about the escalating internal unrest in the country.
What they're saying: “We urge authorities in Israel to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly. It is clear there is significant debate and discussion in Israel on the proposed judicial plan. Such debates are a healthy part of a vibrant democracy," a White House National Security Council spokesperson told Axios.
This is only the most recent in a series of comments by President Biden, U.S. Ambassador Nides, and other officials. You will search in vain for a comment saying “we urge authorities in France to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly.” Instead, on March 30 the White House comment was "We support the right of people to protest and to express their opinions and to demonstrate peacefully there as we would anywhere.”
Note the difference: in the case of France, there is a general statement of principle with no criticism; in the case of Israel, the criticism is clear, and is part of a months-long campaign.
Why does the administration feel quite free to interfere with the internal politics of one democratic ally and not another? Here are two related reasons: In the case of France, critics of Macron have not sought such U.S. interference and pressure. In the case of Israel, opponents of Prime Minister Netanyahu have traveled to the United States and made almost daily appeals for this pressure. Second, there is no domestic pressure in the United States for criticisms of Macron while there is one for criticisms of Netanyahu. Many American Jewish groups and leaders have expressed their own opposition and invited—or demanded—U.S. pressure on Israel’s government.
The double standard in Biden administration treatment of the unrest in France and in Israel is evident. It is also quite problematic, because it creates a precedent that those who are today urging interference in Israeli domestic disputes may tomorrow regret. Unlike Israel’s policies regarding Iran, Egypt, Jordan, or the Palestinians, the role of its judiciary is about as “internal” an internal matter as can be imagined. Israelis are struggling—democratically and peacefully—over those domestic issues. They should be able to do so without U.S. interference--and without unfair and baseless suggestions that Israeli authorities are not protecting the right to demonstrate.