As an observant Jew with children in Jewish schools in Paris, he is worried about anti-Semitism in his home country and the popularity of radical Islam. He’s also worried about his government’s relations with the other country in which he has citizenship, Israel – especially France’s plan to ask the UN Security Council to call for a Palestinian state on the 1949 armistice lines.
Habib voiced his concerns to French President François Hollande while the two were returning from a visit to Italy on Sunday.
“I tried to tell the president on our flight that, in my opinion, it is counterproductive to go to the UN and try to force Israel’s hand. The great powers should push parties to negotiate, that is the only way to reach a good agreement. I think he listened. He said he would update me,” Habib told The Jerusalem Post from his office in Paris the next day.
Habib said he got the impression from Hollande that France thinks the US will veto its resolution anyway, but the MP maintained that the government would be making a mistake to pressure Israel in this way, even if it is certain it will be vetoed.
According to Habib, the UN resolution would give the Palestinians the state they want, with nothing in return – without them recognizing Israel as the Jewish state or giving up the right of return.
Instead of a UN resolution, France should push both sides to negotiate, which is the only way to bring peace, he posited.
At the same time, Habib is not very optimistic about the possible outcome of such talks.
“Israel wants and always wanted peace, but I don’t think it’s possible now,” he contended. “In the meantime, we should try to encourage coexistence to bring real peace, which would mean living side by side. [The Palestinians] don’t want any Jew to live in Gaza or Judea and Samaria; that’s not peace.”
“Whoever wants peace has to understand Jerusalem can never be divided and we need freedom of religion for all, like we have under Israeli sovereignty,” he stressed.
Habib told Hollande that Israel is ready for real peace, and proved so in the past by evacuating towns in Gaza where Israelis were born and raised. However, he delineated that the conflict is clearly not about land – otherwise the Gaza disengagement and generous offers by prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak would have brought peace.
“Everyone wants an agreement and it’s very complicated.
The fact is that for 70 years, no one has succeeded,” he sighed.
“I explained to the president, as a French MP, that Israel is the only state in the region – where thousands of women and children are being killed – that has the same values as we do,” Habib continued. “Hamas is like Islamic State and Boko Haram, and wants Shari’a; negotiating with them is a bad idea. The world has to understand that Israel is in a hostile environment. It’s a small state, and the only one in the world for the Jewish people.”
Israel will not give up on its security and its land for “fantasies”; as a small country, it “doesn’t have the luxury of making mistakes.”
“Israel is like the life insurance of the Jewish people. I am convinced that if the State of Israel existed at the time, the Holocaust would have been impossible,” he added.
Habib asserted that Europeans can be naïve and ignore the lessons of the past, which is why they don’t understand how important it is that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East – where he emphasized that everyone else is either a dictator or an extremist.
That naïveté applies to the Iran nuclear talks as well.
Habib expressed pride in France’s stance in the negotiations, saying his country is relatively alert, but he is concerned about the American position and Russian dominance in the negotiations.
“We all want an agreement with Iran, but it has to be a good one – and this is not a good one. We have to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and all experts and reports say they are on the way to getting one,” he pointed out.
“I don’t think we’re heading towards [a deal] that looks effective. Iran will get all its money back and will be ready for the minute it is allowed to have weapons.”
Habib compared the brewing Iran deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement: “Everyone wanted to prevent a war, but we still got one.”
The French MP postulated that a bad deal with Iran puts the whole world in danger, not just Israel.
“How can a country like the US allow something like this?” he wondered. “I don’t understand it.”
IF HABIB’S positions seem very similar to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s, there’s a reason for that: Both grew up on the philosophy of Likud forebear Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and the two have been close personal friends for over 20 years.
Habib’s father, Emanuel Habib, was a leader of the Tunisian Jewish community in France and a well-known Revisionist Zionist who was friends with prime minister Menachem Begin.
Habib, 54, joined the Jabotinsky- founded Betar youth movement as a teen; he made aliya in the late-1970s, when he finished high school in France, and studied industrial engineering at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology.
He eventually became an executive at Citizen Watches and the Groupe Vendome luxury jewelry brand, all the while engaging in activism in the French Jewish community through the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF).
It was through that activism that Habib met Netanyahu in the early 1990s, and became friends with him and his wife, Sara.
In 2013 Habib was elected a member of the French National Assembly, as part of the centrist UDI party, representing French expats in Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, San Marino, Turkey, the Holy See and Israel – which has more French citizens than all the other areas combined. The MP said he is proud to represent constituents from places that are central to all three monotheistic religions.
When asked if he coordinates his political actions with Netanyahu, Habib’s response made it clear he was sensitive to accusations of dual loyalty.
“I ask the prime minister’s opinion and I give him mine, but he’s the prime minister of Israel and I’m an MP in France,” he began, but then continued to detail the dynamics between them.
“We talk, and of course we share values; France and Israel have the same goal [of peace].
I love France very much. I was born there, and it is my first language, but there is no problem loving both countries.
France and Israel have friendly relations.”
“I am a member of the French Parliament and Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have been among my closest friends for 23 years – well before he became prime minister,” he revealed.
“Personally, I have learned a lot from him and gained a lot of useful experience at his side.
“This is why I am very grateful to him. I strongly believe that Netanyahu, who is still young, will [go down] in history as one of Israel’s greatest prime ministers, and will deeply mark Israel history.
I truly know that under his leadership, the people of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide are in safe hands and can sleep peacefully.
“As a Jew and as a French-Israeli binational, it is an honor for me to count him among my inner circle,” continued Habib.
“And I was touched when he said last week to [former French president Nicolas] Sarkozy, when the three of us met: ‘We are like brothers.’” As for political issues, “I talk to the prime minister often and I try to explain France’s concerns to him. The French government has good intentions and wants peace, but they don’t understand it’s not just about territory. My deep belief is this is, fundamentally, a religious war.”
AS AN observant Jew in the French National Assembly at a time when anti-Semitism in Europe is on the rise, Habib has received death threats and must be accompanied by bodyguards in France.
Habib said the attacks on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris earlier this year are tied to demonization of Israel.
“In [Operation Protective Edge], the media just showed dead bodies of Palestinian children all the time. Any normal person is pained to see a child killed, but the media only showed that, not the Grads and [other] rockets shot at Israel. That is why the French media holds part of responsibility in the rise of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic feelings.
“These pictures of children, trapped in a city under fire and sometimes killed, have been used as a justification for recent anti-Semitic attacks in France – for example, in last January’s attack on Hyper Cacher,” he explained.
As for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, calling for a boycott of a country is considered illegal discrimination in France, and in most cases French courts do not allow boycotts to continue – but the problem is a moral one at its core, Habib detailed.
The MP pointed to atrocities throughout the Middle East and Africa and said the UN hardly ever condemns them, but focuses on Israel.
“French people don’t hear that 300,000 people were killed in Syria and that Islamic State is crucifying Christians like they did 2,000 years ago.
They think Israel is the source of the world’s problems, when the Palestinians are responsible for the conflict,” he lamented. “War in the Middle East is not about territory, it is about religion.”
“This is a moral problem for everyone, not just Jews.
“The world needs to open its eyes. I’m not just worried about French Jews, I’m worried about France, my country, which is facing a Islamist threat,” he stated, clarifying that “of course not all Muslims are jihadis, but It is a lot of people… There are thousands of cases in France.”
We can’t know for sure. It is a lot of people… There are thousands of cases in France.
This is a phenomenon,” he warned.
“You can criticize the government, but so much attention is focused on the tiny, sole Jewish state that has been fighting for its existence for 70 years. People used to say Jews poisoned wells or put Christian blood in matzot. Today they blame a tiny state for all that is happening in the world,” Habib said.