On Wednesday French President Emmanuel Macron toured Jerusalem's Old City with a police escort as he attended the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Israel.
He especially wanted to visit the Church of St Anne, just like some of his predecessors, given it's specially designated as French sovereign territory since being gifted by the Ottoman Empire to France in 1856. The church is considered the best preserved Crusader church in the region, and dates back to 1138. By popular belief it enshrines the home of the Virgin Mary and her parents.
But President Macron's trip to the French national treasure was marred when he personally entered a spat with Israeli security, berating at least one Israeli officer to "Go outside, please!" in English.
French President Emmanuel Macron gets testy with Israeli police in the church of Sainte Anne, Old City of Jerusalem. pic.twitter.com/14NjxLPvLA— Noga Tarnopolsky (@NTarnopolsky) January 22, 2020
It's unclear precisely what the Israeli security entourage did to provoke the rare and bizarre incident, but the historic Roman Catholic church is located in East Jerusalem — on the occupied Palestinian side which is also the Muslim Quarter of the walled city.
According to the BBC, "Mr Macron accused officers of violating rules that prevent them from entering the Crusader-era Church of St Anne, which is considered French territory."
"I don't like what you did in front of me. Go outside, please," he warned them in English. "Nobody has to provoke."
Video of the Wednesday testy exchange went viral in the hours after it happened. Macron appeared to be directing his wrath at a uniformed Israeli police officer.
Macron referenced agreed up rules asserting control of the place as French territory: "I'm sorry, but we know the rules. Nobody, nobody has to provoke, nobody. We keep calm," the 42-year old French president said.
He also turned to a plainclothes security officer, attempting to calm the situation: "We had a wonderful walk. You did a great job in the city. I do appreciate it guys."
He followed with: "Please respect the rules as they are for centuries. They will not change with me. I can tell you, OK?" And then he moved forward unimpeded into the church.
A spokeswoman for the Elysée Palace later told CNN the altercation involved a tense exchange between French and Israeli security, likely involving physical shoving, with the Israeli Foreign Ministry remaining mum immediately following the incident:
"St. Anne belongs to France in Jerusalem. It is up to France to protect these places in this city. The Israeli security forces wanted to enter while security was being provided by French security services. The president reacted to an altercation between the Israeli and French security forces at the time of entering Saint Anne in order to end it, and to remind everyone of the rules that apply," the spokeswoman said.
France leader Emmanuel Macron got into a heated argument with Israeli forces during his visit to Jerusalem, mirroring a similar incident involving former leader Jacques Chirac in 1996 pic.twitter.com/3PgIDScRSt— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) January 22, 2020
A similar incident had actually played out in 1996 when French President Jacques Chirac toured St. Anne's.
In that episode, which created an international incident for which the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued an apology, Chirac was angered when Israeli security shoved local Muslims and journalists that were among the entourage.