The Israeli prime minister was asked to avoid Sunday’s march in Paris, out of a fear he would use the occasion to exploit divisions in French society
Al-Araby – 12 January 2015
It was hardly surprising that France’s president, Francois Hollande, is understood to have implored Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to participate in Sunday’s mass march in solidarity with the victims of last week’s killings in Paris.
Netanyahu was probably the least welcome of the 40 world leaders who participated in the rally in the French capital to demonstrate their outrage at an attack that left 17 people dead, including four French Jews.
According to Israeli media, Hollande’s advisers had urged Netanyahu not to come, concerned that he would exploit the visit – and the deaths – to increase divisions in French society.
They had good grounds for concern. Shortly before he set off for Paris, Netanyahu issued a statement saying Israel would welcome with “open arms” any French or European Jews choosing to move to Israel.
Earlier, he tweeted: “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.”
Netanyahu also declared on Saturday that he would be convening a special ministerial committee this week to investigate ways to encourage Jewish migration from France and from other European countries.
Meanwhile, in a coup for the Israeli prime minister, it was announced that four Jewish men killed at the HyperCacher supermarket in Paris on Friday were being flown to Israel for burial in Jerusalem on Tuesday. None of them were Israeli citizens.
The four will be officially recognised as “terror victims”, possibly entitling their relatives to large payments from the Israeli government.
Hollande’s concerns were doubtlessly fuelled by Netanyahu’s behaviour at a ceremony for the victims of an attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012.
On that occasion, Netanyahu called on Jews to leave France for Israel and then burst into a rendition of the Zionist anthem “Am Yisrael Chai”, or “The people of Israel live”. Hollande was reportedly incensed, saying Netanyahu had used the event “as an election rally”.
This time, presumably in response to Hollande’s rebuke, Netanyahu did slightly temper his language during his speech at the Great Synagogue in Paris. Conceding that Jews had a right to live in France, he also averred: “Jews today have been blessed with another right, a right that didn’t exist for previous generations: The right to join their Jewish brothers in our historic homeland – the land of Israel.” Hollande had, by then, left the building.
The clear implication of Netanyahu’s statements has been that France and other western states are not doing enough to protect their Jewish populations from violent extremism, and that Israel is the only safe haven for Jews.
But it would be wrong to view this as some kind of ideological aberration on Netanyahu’s part. Most other Israeli politicians joined him in urging French Jews to move to Israel.
Yair Lapid, seen as a centrist politician, said: “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.”
In fact, the effort to bring Jews to Israel is at the core of Zionist thinking, and widely supported by the Israeli Jewish population. Aliyah, or “ascension”, the Hebrew word for Jewish immigration, connotes an almost-divine obligation on Jews to live in Israel.
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, it should be remembered, used even more inflammatory language in 2004, warning that France was in the grip of “the wildest anti-semitism”, and calling on Jews to flee France.
“If I have to advise our brothers in France, I’ll tell them one thing – move to Israel, as early as possible. I say that to Jews all around the world, but there [in France] I think it’s a must and they have to move immediately.”
Similarly, Israel has tried to exploit economic crises in countries with significant Jewish populations to encourage them to emigrate. In 2001, when the Argentinian financial system collapsed, Israel offered each Jew there a $20,000 cheque – should they make a new life in Israel.
That was in addition to the inducements Israel offers as standard to Jewish immigrants: large sums of cash, tax breaks, subsidies, as well as special access to grants and loans.
The extraordinary lengths Israel is prepared to go to encourage Jews to come to Israel – including, it seems, even actions designed to fuel anti-semitism – were suggested by Raanan Rein, a history professor at Tel Aviv University, in a book on Israel’s relations with Argentina.
According to Rein, in 1960, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s prime minister, welcomed the possibility that Israel’s kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann – in violation of an extradition agreement with Buenos Aires – might fuel hatred of the country’s Jews.
“If there is anti-Semitism,” he told a journalist, “they [Argentina’s Jews] can immigrate to Israel.”
Analysts and observers have pointed out that Netanyahu, Israeli politicians more generally and organisations such as the Jewish Agency, which oversees immigration to Israel, may equally be provoking hatred – inadvertently or otherwise – that strengthens Jewish immigration.
Few deny a connection between Israel’s intensifying belligerency, especially its repeated attacks on Gaza, and verbal and physical attacks on Jews in Europe.
More specifically in France, reports of attacks on Jews over the past decade have been well-publicised, including by the Jewish Agency, even though a significant proportion have turned out to be false.
Weakening Jewish communities
France, with half a million Jews, has the largest Jewish population outside the US and Israel. According to figures from the Jewish Agency, 7,000 immigrants arrived from France in 2014, triple the number in 2012. Israel’s minister for immigrant absorption, Sofa Landver, has predicted that more than 10,000 will immigrate this year.
In hailing her ministry’s successes last month, Landver said the government would continue “to promote the ingathering of the exiles, a vision that has accompanied the people of Israel since the state’s establishment”.
In contrast, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association, noted that Netanyahu’s efforts risked “severely weakening and damaging Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are”.
In more graphic terms, Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev argued: “By encouraging mass emigration, Israeli politicians could very well be helping terrorist fanatics finish the job started by the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators: making France Judenrein.”
Netanyahu’s assumptions, he added, “can only invigorate jihadists and spur them to adopt similar tactics in other European countries”.
So why is Jewish immigration so important to Israel that it is prepared to endanger the very Jews it claims to protect?
The reason is illustrated in the efforts of Netanyahu and the Israeli right to pass a basic law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.
Goals of Zionism
The aims of such legislation, echoing the major goals of Zionism, are several and related:
* To consolidate Israel’s long-standing efforts to claim it is the state of all Jews around the world, conflating Judaism with Zionism and helping to silence critics of Israeli policy as anti-Semites.
* To implicate all Jews in Israeli actions to Judaise territory that was seized from Palestinians, as part of Israel’s efforts to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.
* To recruit more Jews to counter the so-called “demographic threat” posed by the Palestinians’ higher natural growth rate, which threatens to create a Palestinian majority in the combined area of Israel and the occupied territories.
* To bolster a self-serving narrative of Israel as being on the frontlines of the clash of civilisations, in which the future of the Judeo-Christian west is threatened by a bloodthirsty Islamic east.
It was therefore entirely predictable that Netanyahu used his speech in Paris on Sunday to again characterise the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, and Lebanon’s Hizballah as being no different from militant jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State that were implicated in last week’s attack.
They all, he said, wanted to “impose a dark tyranny on the world”.
“Those who slaughtered Jews in the synagogue in Jerusalem [in November] and those who slaughtered Jews and journalists in Paris belong to the same murderous terror organisation,” Netanyahu claimed.
An analyst on Israel’s Channel 2 news described last week’s attacks in Paris as “France’s 9/11”.
It is worth recalling that Netanyahu let slip in the immediate wake of the attack on the World Trade Centre his real view of that event – it was “very good” for Israel because it would generate sympathy for its war against the Palestinians.
Fallacy of safe haven
Haaretz columnist Ansel Pfeffer noted this narrative worked to Netanyahu’s benefit, allowing him to refuse “to make meaningful concessions to the Palestinians since Israel is on the frontline facing the onslaught of radical Islam, and any ground given will immediately be used to launch further attacks”.
Another Israeli analyst, Orly Noy, took the same view: “This helps Netanyahu promote a worldview in which there is no national conflict, no occupation, no Palestinian people and no blatant disregard for human rights.”
But as Pfeffer further observed, Netanyahu’s narrative that all Jews should come to Israel depends on a central fallacy: that Israel is a safe haven. In fact, statistically Jews are far safer in France than in conflict-plagued Israel.
It also forgets that at least some of Israel’s power on the international stage has depended on the influence of international Jewish lobbies to pressure politicians and the media through their activism.
This was a point Rabbi Margolin alluded to. “The Israeli government must recognise this reality and also remember the strategic importance of the Jewish communities as supporters of Israel in the countries in which they live.”
It might be worth Netanyahu pondering that a United States and a Europe without organised Jewish lobbies aggressively promoting Israel’s interests would be less reliable allies than they have been until now.