French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné arrives before a meeting with France's President and Cambodia's Prime Minister at the Elysee Presidential Palace, in Paris, on January 18, 2024.

(Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)

French Foreign Minister Rebuked for Suggesting Israel Is Immune From Genocide Charges

"The French government has joined the German government in stating that international law on genocide does not apply to Israel."

France's newly appointed foreign minister drew backlash on Wednesday after he joined other Western officials in rejecting South Africa's genocide case against Israel—and suggested it is beyond the pale to even accuse the Israeli government of committing genocide.

"To accuse the Jewish state of genocide is to cross a moral threshold," Stéphane Séjourné said in response to a question from leftist French lawmaker Danièle Obono, who argued that "if it wants to be consistent with its values, France must urgently follow South Africa's lead" at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Séjourné replied that "the notion of genocide cannot be exploited for political ends."

Though the foreign minister insisted that "the rule of law applies to all" and called for an end to "systematic strikes in Gaza," observers said his dismissal of South Africa's thoroughly documented genocide charges shows a clear double standard in how France and other Western governments are choosing to apply international law as Israel decimates Gaza.

"The French government has joined the German government in stating that international law on genocide does not apply to Israel—that, because Jews have been subjected to genocide, Israel has moral and legal immunity for any war crime, even a genocide, it chooses to commit," Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister and co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), wrote in response to Séjourné's comments.

Guillaume Long, senior research fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research who previously served as Ecuador's foreign affairs minister, called Séjourné's statement "appalling and quite incredible" given that France's ambassador to the United Nations "had already announced that France would respect the ICJ ruling no matter what."

"But the new foreign minister appears to be yet another genocide apologist," said Long.

"I think a lot of western nations are trying to future-proof their own genocidal complicity and war crimes."

Séjourné's comments came a week after South Africa detailed its genocide case in a series of presentations that legal experts and human rights advocates described as compelling—and potentially enough to secure an ICJ ruling against Israel.

"I would wager that South Africa's case was strong enough that the court will impose some provisional measures on Israel in the hope of mitigating the enormous civilian harm caused by Israel's approach to fighting Hamas," Kenneth Roth, the former executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian over the weekend.

But the United States—Israel's top arms supplier—has rejected the genocide case as "meritless," as has the United Kingdom, whose foreign secretary called South Africa's charges "nonsense." Germany has formally intervened in the ICJ proceedings in support of Israel.

Earlier this week, Anadolu Agency reported that South African lawyers are preparing to file a separate ICJ lawsuit accusing the U.S. and U.K. of complicity in Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

"The U.S. must now be held responsible for the crimes it has committed," South African attorney Wikus Van Rensburg told Anadolu. "It must accept its responsibilities."

Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly identified Guillaume Long as the current foreign affairs minister in Ecuador, but this is a position he formerly heldin a previous government.

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