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Randy McDonald
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[BRIEF NOTE] Israel and la francophonie, part 2

The recent state visit paid by Israeli president Moshe Katsav to France, aimed at revitalizing a strained Israeli-French relationship, has produced an interesting clarification on the relationship of Israel to la Francophonie. As Jonathan Edelstein observed this past December, Israel would be a natural member-state of the international organization of Francophone countries, given the large numbers of Israeli Francophones (there's even a USENET newsgroup for Israeli Francophones). The international Francophone television channel TV5 reports that Chirac has spoken in favour of Israeli membership. The report is excerpted below.



Francophonie: Chirac, pour l'admission d'Israël, reconnaît le "veto"

PARIS, 16 fév (AFP) - 16/02/2004 18h14 - Le président Jacques Chirac a déclaré lundi qu'il était "tout à fait favorable" à l'admission d'Israël au sein de la Francophonie, tout en reconnaissant que, "dans l'état actuel des choses", il n'y a "pas de possibilité de surmonter" le "veto" de certains pays membres.

"Je suis tout à fait favorable" à l'admission d'Israël qui compte "un nombre important de francophones, en particulier, un certain nombre d'Israéliens d'origine marocaine", a dit Jacques Chirac, au cours d'une conférence de presse conjointe avec son homologue israélien Moshe Katzav.

Le président français a indiqué que la question serait à nouveau évoquée lors du prochain sommet de la Francophonie à Ouagadougou, en novembre.

Jacques Chirac a toutefois souligné que "le pacte initial" entre les Etats-membres "prévoit que chaque pays a un droit de veto pour l'élargissement". "C'est ça notre problème. Je souhaite naturellement qu'Israël entre", a-t-il dit en faisant valoir que les Français ne sont "pas les responsables, les chefs de la Francophonie", "une association démocratique gérée à partir de ses statuts par ses propres responsables".





PARIS, 16 February (AFP): 16/02/2004 6:14 pm - President Jacques Chirac declared Monday that he was "entirely in support" of the admission of Israel to la francophonie, though recognizing that, "in the actual state of affairs," It would "not be possible to overcome" the "veto" of certain member countries.

"I am entirely in support" to the admission of Israel which includes "a large number of Francophones, particularly a substantial number of Israelis of Moroccan origin," said President Chirac, during a press confererence held jointly with his Israeli counterpart Moshe Katzav.

The French president indicated that the question would be raised again during the next summit of la Francophonie at Ouagadougou, in November.

Jacque Chirac underlined that "the founding pact" made by member-states "envisaged that each country would have a veto right over enlargement." "It's this which is our problem. I naturally want Israel to enter," he said while communicating that the French are not "the responsible agents, the leaders of la Francophonie," "a democratic association run based on its own statues by its own functionaries."



The fact that France isn't the dominant power in la Francophonie is something that's frequently overlooked. Now, granted that in terms of the numbers of Francophones and overall economic and geopolitical power France is by far the most important member-state. France didn't start la Francophonie, though--rather, that institution can trace its origins to an initiative of Francophone African states to establish cooperation between themselves on educational and other matters. A France in the process of a rather prolonged and nasty decolonization in Algeria was in no mood to establish links which could plausibly be called neo-colonial, particualrly not with the Left ascendant over the 1960s.

In the meantime, a Québec which was quickly developing throughout the 1960s into a self-consciously Francophone entity with a much stronger international profile than ever before began to look towards the countries of Francophone Africa, and separately started to draw France into much closer and more direct relations. Partly in order to preempt the development of an autonomous Québec foreign policy, the Canadian federal government began to echo Québec's initiatives. (The Communauté française de Belgique and other Francophone communities in Europe seem to have started their own participation in la Francophonie for a combination of motives, some perhaps echoing those of Québec/Canada.)

The important point is that la Francophonie began as a decentralized network, with North American and African nodes existing largely independently of France and in fact playing a determinative role in the organization of the international Francophone community. As the number of member-states has expanded, particularly into the Middle East and the nominally Francophile countries of central and southeastern Europe, so have the chances for France to establish a formal hegemony within institutional structures--as opposed to an informal one through the predominance of French mass media--dropped sharply.

Israel should join la Francophonie. Given that it has a million speakers of French--including a quarter-million or so mother-tongue speakers--it's arguably more Francophone than participating governments like Poland and Lithuania. I suspect, though, that the opposition of many Arab Francophone states, particularly but not only Lebanon, will keep Israel out.

Worse still for Israeli prospects, based on Ethnologue data, it seems that a near-majority of Francophones (including speakers of French as a second language) live in countries with a Muslim majority population. If the Arab-Israeli situation does become a pan-Muslim issue, then however desirable Israeli membership might be impossible. This would be a terrible pity, needless to say, given Israel's qualifications and given how France's Jewish community is second-largest in the Jewish diaspora by size.
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