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Ben-gurion, French Issue De Gaulle Exchange; French Leader ‘surprised’ at Reactions

January 11, 1968
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made public his recent correspondence with French President de Gaulle, at a jammed press conference here late yesterday afternoon, and voiced the opinion that, while “there are things in de Gaulle’s letter that should better not have been said,” the French leader was still friendly to Israel, and criticism of him in the press has been exaggerated. Mr. Ben-Gurion brought to the press conference a copy of a letter he had written to Gen. de Gaulle last Dec. 6, and the General’s reply, dated Dec. 30. The texts of both letters were made public at the same time by the French Government in Paris.

Mr. Ben-Gurion had written to Gen. de Gaulle that he was “saddened and disturbed” by the latter’s remarks at a press conference in Paris last Nov. 27. At that time, de Gaulle delivered a lengthy political tirade against Israel, charging Israel was a “war-like state bent on expansion” and accusing Israel of starting last June’s Middle East war against France’s advise. At the same time, de Gaulle impugned the Jewish people “throughout the ages” as “an elite people, sure of themselves and domineering,” who had “created ill will in various countries at various times.”

In his letter to Mr. Ben-Gurion, de Gaulle denied that he intended any disparagement of the Jewish people, and expressed surprise at “the emotion apparently aroused among certain of them by the fact that I described their people as an elite, sure of themselves and domineering. Some people claim to see this assessment as derogatory, whereas in fact there cannot be anything disparaging in underlining the character, thanks to which this strong people was able to survive and to remain itself after 19 centuries spent under incredible conditions.”

But Gen. de Gaulle’s letter, though contrary to the disregard he usually manifests toward the emotions and controversies his remarks may arouse in others, was not an apology. He reiterated to Mr. Ben-Gurion his complaint that Israel ignored France’s warning not to attack last June, and repeated the French Government’s request that Israel withdraw from occupied Arab territories in order to make possible Arab recognition of Israel.


Mr. Ben-Gurion’s letter, which in French translation filled 15 pages, recalled the suffering of the Jews through history and told the French President that his Nov. 27 references to the history of Zionism “were based on incorrect and imprecise information.” Mr. Ben-Gurion wrote: “You spoke of the establishment of a Zionist homeland between the two world wars; the changing of a sincere desire into burning and conquering ambition; a lack of modesty, the Israeli state warlike and bent on expansion, the dream of those who wanted to exploit the closing of the Strait of Tiran.”

“It is not through strength, and not simply through money and certainly not through conquests, but through our pioneering creativity that we transformed a poor and arid land into fertile soil and created townships, towns and villages on desert like and abandoned terrain.” Mr. Ben-Gurion rejected Israeli responsibility for the Arab refugees, maintaining that they fled during the 1948 fighting with the British, not after the establishment of the State of Israel. “The Jewish people is equal in its right and duties to all the other peoples, not more but not less,” he told de Gaulle.

The French leader in his reply, asserted that France was always a friend of Israel and that the Israelis should have known that France would not allow the destruction of their country. “This was guaranteed by our official talks not so long ago and by the fact that I had publicly described Israel as ‘a friendly and allied state,'” de Gaulle wrote. “But this is precisely the reasons why I always said — and to yourself in the first place — that, in order to justify the task thus undertaken as it was proceeding, and to insure its future. Israel had to exert strict moderation in her relations with her neighbors and in her territorial ambitions.

“Of course, I do not in any way contest that the unfortunate blockade of the Gulf of Akaba was unilaterally damaging to your country, and I am not unaware of the fact that your country had reason to feel itself threatened, in view of the tension prevailing in the Palestine area following the flood of abuse lavished on Israel as well as the pitiful condition of the Arabs who sought refuge in Jordan or were relegated to Gaza.

“But I remain convinced that, by ignoring the warning given in good time to your Government by the French Government, by taking possession of Jerusalem and of many Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian territories by force of arms, by exercising repression and expulsions there…by affirming to the world that a settlement of the conflict could only be achieved on the basis of the conquests made and not on the condition that these be evacuated, Israel is over-stepping the bounds of necessary moderation.” Gen. de Gaulle also repeated France’s offer to mediate a solution within the framework of the United Nations, “not only on the political plane but also in the field.”

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