France - Israel Friendship

Since the State of Israel was born in 1948, French-Israeli relations were characterized by some extreme ups and downs, with periods of very close and special relations vs. periods of hostility. Since around 2005 the relations have greatly improved and today they can be characterized as very good and friendly.

France voted in favor of the establishment of a Jewish State on Nov. 29, 1947 at the U.N. She also helped the Yishuv – the Jewish community in the Land of Israel during the British Mandate – with its clandestine immigration efforts prior to the Israeli Declaration of Independence in mid 1948. On Jan. 12, 1949, France de facto recognized the existence of Israel and later that year supported the decision for Israel to join the United Nations.

In the early 1950's the relations between Israel and France were good, yet all Israel's attempts to turn France into her main arms supplier failed, as France chose to join Britain and the U.S. in an embargo on selling arms to Israel and her neighbors.

The insurgency of the Algerians against France, which started in late 1954, changed the situation. The French government came to the conclusion that Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, was fueling the anti French insurgency in Algeria and was posing a threat to France's national interests. In early 1956, following the news about a substantial arms deal between Egypt and Czechoslovakia, France – under the leadership of Prime Minister Guy Mollet – officially ended the embargo, and Israel started to get from her big quantities of arms, including airplanes and tanks.

In July 1956, Nasser took control of the Suez Canal and prompted France, Britain and Israel to plan a joint operation against Egypt. In October the Sinai War broke out and resulted in a complete victory for the Anglo-Israeli-French coalition. However, international pressure led by the U.S. forced the three to return full control of Sinai and the Suez Canal to the Egyptians.

Despite the setbacks of the war, relations between Israel and France grew stronger and stronger. The 12 years – from the mid 1950’s to mid1967 – are considered the “golden age” of French-Israeli relations. During the late 1950’s France supplied Israel with all sort of arms, including the advanced Mirage airplanes (during the 1970's Israel used the Mirage model to develop her own fighter aircraft, the Kfir). As part of the special relationship, France helped Israel with the construction of the nuclear reactor near Dimona, Israel, which was completed in 1963 (current Israeli President Shimon Peres was the politician who brokered the deal). The deal laid the foundations to Israel’s alleged nuclear weapon capabilities.

In 1960, Ben-Gurion made the first official visit of an Israeli Prime Minister to France and met with Charles de Gaulle, France's President since the end of 1958. Until the Six-Day War in June 1967, France continued to be the main supplier of Israel's weapons. On the eve of the Six-Day War, Charles de Gaulle's government imposed an arms embargo on the region, practically affecting only Israel. This move marked the dramatic end to the special relations between the two countries and a period of hostile relations ensued. In 1969, de Gaulle retired and Israel hoped that new president Georges Pompidou would bring about better relations, but Pompidou continued with the pro Arab policies of his predecessor.

In 1981 François Mitterrand was elected 21st President of the French Republic. Mitterrand was the first left-wing head of state since 1957 and was considered a friend of the Jewish people and a lover of the Bible. In 1982 he visited Israel and spoke in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Nevertheless, the 1982 Lebanon War and Israel’s attack of the Iraqi nuclear reactor strained the relationships. France continued with her pro-Arab stance under Jacques Chirac, who succeeded Mitterrand as President in 1995. The bilateral relations even reached new low following Chirac’s support of Yasser Arafat during the first stages of the Second Intifada. During that period there was a significant rise in anti-Semitic attacks against the French Jewry.

The relations started to improve in 2005 after Israel decided to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. In that year, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited France and the Foundation Franch-Israel was established with the goal of strengthening the friendship between the two peoples. The election of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in May 2007 led to further significant warming of the ties between the countries. On February 13, 2008, Sarkozy spoke at the annual dinner of the French Jewish CRIF. The address was seen as a sign of newfound warmth between France's Élysée Palace and French Jewry, whose place in French society has been shaken in recent years following a surge in anti-Semitic attacks. "Israel can count on a new dynamic to its relationship with the European Union", said Sarkozy. "France will never compromise on Israel's security." Israel welcomed Sarkozy's tough stance against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah. Sarkozi visited Israel in 2008, and so did his successor President François Hollande in 2013.

France's cultural, technological and scientific cooperation with Israel is extensive. Numerous Israeli and French companies are engaged in technological, marketing and even strategic cooperations. In recent years there is a significant surge in the volume of trade between the two countries and France is a major market for Israeli exports such as machinery, electronic equipment, chemicals, plastic goods and food.

The two stamps (the other stamp is shown with the Hebrew text) commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first flight, on June 9, 1948, between France and the newly founded State of Israel. Postal ties between the State of Israel and the rest of the world had been severed since April 1948. In June of 1948 France brought about the renewal of Israel's postal ties with many nations, starting with that flight, which also symbolizes the beginning of the ties and cooperation that exist between the two countries in many areas. Above all, it represents the close and friendly relation between the two countries and their people.

The stamps were issued jointly by Israel and France in 2008, designers: Meir Eshel and P.A. Cousin.

More on the first flight: On June 9, 1948 an Air France DC3 airplane landed near Haifa (Haifa aerial view is shown on the 1.60 INS stamp. The plane made an interim stop in Bucharest while en route to Israel, thus arriving with mail from both France and Romania. The plane subsequently left Haifa on the early morning of June 11, carrying mail to France and other countries with which Israel had re-established postal ties: Bulgaria, Holland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland and Switzerland. It also carried a mail sack bound for New York. After interim stops in Cyprus, Greece, Italy and southern France, the airplane landed the next day at the Le Bourget airport near Paris, and delivered its mail sacks.