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french twist

Israelis allowed back into French arms exhibit after court reverses ban

The Paris Commercial Court determined that bans on Israelis are discriminatory

JULIEN DE ROSA/AFP via Getty Images

US Marines lean on a Abraham tank during the Eurosatory international land, air defence and security trade fair, in Villepinte, a northern suburb of Paris, on June 17, 2024.

A French court on Tuesday overturned a ban that had blocked Israeli companies from participating in the Eurosatory defense exhibition, on the second day of the event, which ends on Friday.

The Paris Commercial Court reversed all bans on the entry of Israelis to the event, determining that they are discriminatory.

Patrick Klugman, a lawyer on behalf of the Israel-France Chamber of Commerce, which petitioned the Commercial Court, posted the ruling on X, saying that the ruling “set the law straight on the matter.” 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Israeli delegation did not have plans to go to France, but the Defense Ministry said it is assessing what can be done.

Eurosatory is one of the highest-profile exhibitions in the defense industry, and 74 Israeli companies had planned to participate, the vast majority of which planned to show their wares in an Israeli Defense Ministry booth.

Last month, the French Defense Ministry announced that “conditions are no longer met to host Israeli companies at the show at a time when the President [Emmanuel Macron] is calling for Israel to cease operations in Rafah.” The ministry ordered the organizer, Coges Events, to ban Israeli companies from presenting. Russia and Belarus were also banned from participating.

The announcement came weeks after the U.S. withheld a weapons shipment from Israel. A report released on Tuesday found that the number of arms sales to Israel approved by the U.K. dropped 95% since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas. At the same time, Israeli weapons manufacturers had record sales in 2023.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant lashed out at Macron last week after the French leader said he sought to work with Israel and the U.S. to prevent a war between Israel and Lebanon. Gallant accused Paris of having “adopted hostile policies against Israel. In doing so, France ignores the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli children, women and men. Israel will not be a party to the trilateral framework proposed by France.”

Senior sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry distanced themselves from Gallant’s position, pointing out that France helped defend Israel from the Iranian missile attack in April.

A court in Bobigny, France, ruled last week that not only were Israeli companies prohibited from presenting arms at Eurosatory, but that anyone working for Israeli firms could not participate in or attend the exhibition.

Coges Events said that “the court order goes beyond the decision French government authorities made two weeks ago” and they “decided to appeal the decision as soon as possible.” 

French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu said that while the country’s “executive branch is not supposed to comment on court decisions … one cannot ignore the fact that the decision goes far beyond the government’s original request, which never suggested such a prohibition. Therefore, the organizers’ appeal is the right step.”

On the first day of the Eurosatory exhibition, the company posted the court order by the entrance and required all Israeli visitors to fill out a form declaring that they do not work for an Israeli defense company.

Yonathan Afri, president of the French Jewish community umbrella organization CRIF, posted on X that “this is no longer just a question of banning Israeli companies from a booth, an already scandalous boycott decision, but of stigmatizing and blacklisting Israelis themselves! Obscene discrimination … shameful practices, unworthy of France.”

Coges Events apologized, saying that the form was required due to the court order. 

Meanwhile, multiple tanks from European manufacturers that were on display at the conference featured Israeli systems. At least one company was ordered to cover up an Israeli-made turret. 

The American arms company Leonardo DRS displayed a sign in its booth with the U.S. and Israeli flags and the text: “We stand in solidarity with our Israeli employees, partners and friends who were disinvited because of their nationality.” 

Chile also banned Israeli companies from FIDAE 2024, a large Latin American arms industry exhibition that took place in April, but Israel still took part in the 2024 IMDEX Asia Naval and Maritime Defense Exhibition in Singapore, one of the biggest each year.

While Israel’s large arms companies — IAI, Rafael, Elbit — had record sales in 2023, backlogged orders in the billions of dollars for 2024, and international partners and subsidiaries presenting at Eurosatory, smaller manufacturers will likely suffer more. One startup, Attis Aviation, told Globes that they hoped to attract investors, and will only be able to recover 25% of the NIS 60,000 ($16,000) they put into its participation and display at the exhibition.

Yaakov Katz, Jewish People Policy Institute senior fellow and author of Weapons Wizards: How Israel Became a Hi-Tech Military Superpower, said that even if Israeli manufacturers continue to be banned from arms exhibitions, the impact of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas on Israeli arms sales will likely not be felt in 2025.

“It seems that Israel has made record sales, which seem to contradict the feeling right now with Israel blocked out of this conference,” Katz said. “But the sales pertain to 2023, and keep in mind, Oct. 7 took place at the end of the year. We can probably say that 2024 will also be a good year, because those deals were negotiated ahead of time.”

Defense sales can take as long as two years, such that “2025 is the first year I predict we’ll see a first dip in sales and defense exports, especially if this trend continues” at other conferences, Katz said.

At the same time, Katz said that arms manufacturers may benefit from the war, in that customers “want to see that a weapon is used in combat, and what is its operational capability.” 

“Israel has been doing that for the last eight or nine months, so that actually works in favor of customers saying ‘we’ve seen proof of Israel’s technology and we want to use it,’ if you put aside the political,” he said.

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