Yesterday millions took to the streets of Paris in a historic “unity” march in the wake of a shocking string of events including the Charlie Hebdo attack and a hostage standoff at a kosher supermarket which killed a total of 17 people. The march did not only attract Parisians wanting to mourn the traumatic events of the previous week, but also world leaders (despite some apparent contradictions). Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were in attendance, although reports have surfaced that the French government wanted to keep them both away.
Barak Ravid reports for Haaretz:
French President Francois Hollande conveyed a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend asking him not to come to Paris to take part in the march against terror on Sunday, according to an Israeli source who was privy to the contacts between the Elysees Palace and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The fact that this message had been conveyed was first reported by Channel 2.
After the French government began to send invitations to world leaders to participate in the rally against terror, Hollande’s national security adviser, Jacques Audibert, contacted his Israeli counterpart, Yossi Cohen, and said that Hollande would prefer that Netanyahu not attend, the source said.
Audibert explained that Hollande wanted the event to focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Audibert said that Hollande hoped that Netanyahu would understand the difficulties his arrival might pose and would announce that he would not be attending.
The source noted that one of the French concerns – not conveyed to representatives of the Israeli government – was that Netanyahu would take advantage of the event for campaign purposes and make speeches, especially about the Jews of France. Such statements, the Elysee Palace feared, would hurt the demonstration of solidarity the French government was trying to promote as part of dealing with the terror attacks.
Netanyahu reportedly first agreed to stay away, but then changed course upon learning that his political rivals Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett would be there.
When Netanyahu heard [Lieberman and Bennett] were going, he informed the French he would be attending the march after all.
According to the source, when Cohen informed Audibert that Netanyahu would be attending the event after all, Audibert angrily told Cohen that the prime minister’s conduct would have an adverse effect on ties between the two countries as long as Hollande was president of France and Netanyahu was prime minister of Israel.
And Hollande’s concerns about Netanyahu were well founded. The Israeli leader did seek to exploit the tragedy in a speech at the Grand Synagogue in Paris where he made the case for French Jews to leave the country for Israel. From The Jerusalem Post:
Netanyahu, careful not to overtly called for immediate immigration, said, “ I want to say to you what I say to all our Jewish brothers, that you have a full right to live secure and peaceful lives with equal rights wherever you desire, including here in France.”
Then he added, “these days we are blessed with another privilege, a privilege that didn’t exist for generations of Jews – the privilege to join their brothers and sisters in their historic homeland of Israel.”
Ravid reports Hollande was not happy:
Hollande’s anger at Netanyahu was evident during the ceremony held Sunday evening following the march at the Grand Synagogue in Paris, an event attended by hundreds of members of the local Jewish community.
Hollande sat through most of the ceremony, but when Netanyahu’s turn at the podium arrived, the French president got up from his seat and made an early exit.
Can you spot the tension?
Haaretz reports Netanyahu will be setting up a special ministerial committee “to discuss steps to encourage immigration from France and from Europe in general.”
To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe,Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home
— בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) January 10, 2015
He wasn’t the only Israeli political leader to make a similar appeal. Yair Lapid invoked the Holocaust to compel European Jews to immigrate to Israel: “I don’t want to speak in terms of Holocaust, but … European Jewry must understand that there is just one place for Jews, and that is the State of Israel.”
Yair Lapid, Muslim extremists and neo Nazis all agree: Jews should leave Europe http://t.co/W5NTlAkSjD
— Alex Kane (@alexbkane) January 10, 2015
Ali Abunimah points out at Electronic Intifada Israel has worked to exploit the French violence in several ways:
While Netanyahu was certainly playing to a domestic audience, his presence in Paris is also part of Israel’s swift move to capitalize on the horror in France on a number of fronts: to attack the Palestinians, to sharpen the dangerous discourse of a “war of civilizations” and to speed up the population transfer of Jews from Europe.
So far the Israeli message has been rebuffed most strongly by European Jews themselves:
The head of the largest advocate for the Jewish organizations and communities in Europe sharply criticized Israel’s call for increased immigration of the Continent’s Jews to Israel in the wake of the attacks in Paris.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, was quoted by the website nrg.co.il as saying that he regretted that “after every anti-Semitic attack in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statements about the importance of aliyah [immigration to Israel], rather than employ every diplomatic and informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe.”
NRG reported that Margolin said that Jews who have an attachment to Israel do not need this call, and they continue to emigrate to Israel in the wake of the events [like those] over the weekend in Paris. …”
The rabbi said that “every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are.”