12 January '15..
The narrative of “unity” in Paris yesterday was quickly punctured by reports that French President Francois Hollande tried to prevent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s participation in the rally against terror. According to Haaretz, Hollande’s national security advisor relayed the message to his Israeli counterpart. There are, clearly, several things wrong with this picture, foremost among them the gratuitous insult to a Jewish community in mourning that the head of the Jewish state is not welcome in Paris. But if the report is correct, the reasons given for the attempted exclusion compound the offense.
First, there is the following explanation, relayed by Haaretz, for why Hollande didn’t want Netanyahu there:
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.
Anyone who hoped the French might get serious about the terrorism and anti-Semitism plaguing their country will have their hopes dashed by that paragraph. A refresher: the march for unity was held after a two-pronged terror attack, the latter half of which centered on Islamic extremists specifically targeting Jews. In the wake of that attack, Jews were warned to hide any outward appearance of their Judaism and the famed Jewish quarter of the Marais became a ghetto regulated by fear.
To this, the French president says that he doesn’t want the response to include “other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations.” In fact, “Jewish-Muslim relations”–a mild way of describing French Islamists’ murderous anti-Semitism and pogromist instincts–is currently tearing Paris apart. What Hollande doesn’t want to talk about is what’s actually happening to his country. If the Jewish presence atop the Islamists’ target list can’t be acknowledged even in the wake of terror, then Hollande is really making no room for it at all. Hollande’s head is still in the sand.
Netanyahu was at first open to Hollande’s unreasonable request. But then he changed his mind, and informed Hollande he would attend. Here is the apparent response from the French government:
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.
But the foot stomping wasn’t over. Hollande had to publicly convey his opposition to Israel’s head of government participating in a “unity” event. Both attended an event at the Grand Synagogue: “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.”
There is another explanation, however, for Hollande’s decision to disrespect the Jews in the Grand Synagogue. In an unsigned piece at Tablet, a video is provided of the arrival first of Hollande and then of Netanyahu at the Grand Synagogue. Netanyahu receives a hero’s welcome.
This is not all that surprising. I recommend watching the video of Netanyahu’s entrance into the synagogue; it is more compelling than it might appear. The simple fact is that Netanyahu’s presence is a reminder to the Jews of Paris and the Jews of the world that when their home countries repay their love and loyalty with hatred and abuse, the existence of Israel provides an inspirational counterpoint–even for Jews with no intention of making aliyah. Tablet notes:
One of the great lessons of the Holocaust for the Jewish people and for all other peoples who have since been threatened with genocide by fanatics—Cambodians under Pol Pot, Bosnian Muslims, and the Tutsi of Rwanda—is that the world will always talk a good game but will do precious little to save you. If you don’t stick together, you will die alone. The fact that the State of Israel exists means that the Jewish people will never be radically alone. That’s why the people in the Grand Synagogue of Paris are cheering.
And thus it is also something of a reproof to the host country. The presence of an Israeli prime minister in a Western capital that has proved incapable of protecting its Jews provides a contrast that does not benefit Hollande. In that sense, though Hollande’s behavior is not defensible, neither is it incomprehensible.
But the attempt to prevent Netanyahu from attending the march is also delegitimizing to the Jewish state. Jews were killed because they were Jews, and with the partial pretext of the Jewish state’s self-defense. Excluding the Israeli leader is a divisive act–literally, as it divides the Jewish people–and also treats Israel, which is a Western country on the front lines of fighting such terror, as an outsider looking in on the free world. Netanyahu was right to attend, and by the looks of it, the besieged Jews of Paris agreed.