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From 'Brave Little Israel' to 'an Elite and Domineering People': The Image of Israel in France, 1944-1974 Open Access

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This dissertation examines the rise and decline of French-Israeli relations at both the popular and official level between 1944 and 1974 in light of Israel’s imagined Jewishness. From 1954-1968, France was Israel’s most important international partner, providing it with extensive diplomatic support and billions of francs worth of military and nuclear hardware. Using recently declassified French defense and diplomatic records, and understudied sources in the French media and Jewish organizational world, this study argues that the rise of this region-defining friendship was contingent on powerful perceptions of Israeli Jewishness rooted in the French experience of the Second World War. Bringing to light heretofore undiscovered archival materials, this dissertation demonstrates that both the extent of the French-Israeli friendship, and the antipathy that eventually supplanted it, were far deeper than has been previously recognized.Previous scholarship has attributed the French-Israeli alliance to pragmatic factors arising out of the 1954-62 French-Algerian War. Yet this narrow framework insufficiently accounts for the political breadth, personal depth, or longevity of the French-Israeli alliance, which both pre- and post-dated the Algerian conflict. By examining the impact of sentiment, ideology, and institutional structure alongside the pragmatic, I challenge the presumed primacy of political realism in the French-Israeli relationship. Thinking about Israel also stimulated and reflected heated internal debates about the nature and ethos of French society after the Vichy period, and proved central to the politicization of France’s Jewish and Arab communities in the late 1960s. Historians of French Jewry have recently explored the role of Jewishness as an ideational foil for defining the self and the state. This dissertation demonstrates that Israel functioned in a similarly elucidatory fashion by examining Israel’s variable figuration as a vulnerable enclave of Holocaust survivors, a second front in the struggle for French Algeria, and a test case for the principles of the Left. In a revision to that scholarship which presumes a postwar French silence surrounding the Holocaust, I also demonstrate that popular and political discourse about Israel and the Holocaust was extensive and mutually informing. Finally, by providing the first study of French popular discourse on Israel throughout the entirety of this period, I challenge the notion that the 1967 Arab-Israeli War had an immediate and transformative effect on Israel’s international image, and question long-held assumptions about Israel’s declining popularity in Europe.

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