French President Francois Hollande requested Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to attend yesterday’s march in Paris:
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 came anyway and one of his first challenges was to elbow his way to the front:
As Lisa Goldman writes:
The day of bad behavior was just getting started. That evening, after a meeting with Jewish community leaders (who later said they wished Netanyahu would stop telling the Jews of France that they should all move to Israel), Netanyahu gave a speech at Paris’s main synagogue. The crowd greeted him with enthusiastic cheers and listened warmly as he told them that their true home was in Israel, which was waiting with open arms to embrace them.
But in a photograph of the capacity crowd in the synagogue sanctuary tweeted by foreign ministry spokesperson Ofir Gindelman, one can see only French flags, with not a single Israeli flag visible. This is a remarkable contrast with U.S. synagogues, where the pulpit is usually decorated with American and Israeli flags. But the piece de resistance came immediately after Netanyahu had finished delivering his speech, and had already turned his back on the crowd to leave. Before he could step down from the bimah, one of the Jewish leaders grabbed a microphone and launched into a spontaneous rendition of the French national anthem. Not Hatikvah, but the Marseillaise. Within seconds the entire audience had joined in, singing loudly and emotionally.
Gal Beckerman says:
Whether you think Israel has brought this upon itself or that it is being judged by a grossly unfair double standard, when the Israeli prime minister is asked not to attend a march celebrating solidarity with Western values because his presence would be an irritant, there’s a problem.
As far as double standards go, which other state is there that can send its prime minister to visit a close ally where he then encourages some of its citizens to flee from their own country? To view that kind of behavior as an irritation seems like quite an understatement.
By the time Netanyahu got back to Israel he was probably wishing he’d stayed home. Haaretz reported:
Netanyahu’s biggest humiliation was a video that has since gone viral, in which he is seen waiting for a bus to take him to the rally, after missing the bus that ferried other world leaders to the march.
The footage, captured by a French TV station, is remarkable: The prime minister of Israel looks nervous, dejected, beaten down, surrounded by his security detail yet still standing in the middle of the street, looking exposed to danger in a way world leaders should never be. Netanyahu appears furious, annoyed, confused, trying to busy himself with talking on his phone or fixing his hair, constantly looking over his shoulder to check whether his bodyguards are still there. Even the French news anchors had to sympathize with his distress.