The French organizers of the massive rally in Paris a week ago Sunday didn’t want Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come. They saw Netanyahu’s presence as “divisive” and assumed that if they invite the Israeli premier they also have to invite PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.
While the premise of the French position was tenuous at best, Netanyahu is said to have originally agreed not to attend. But then with an election rapidly coming up, Netanyahu decided he could take no chances and announced that he was attending.
For many reason, Netaynyahu would have done everyone a favor and stayed home.
For one thing, the march was a PR coup for Abbas. Appearing among world leaders in the very first row of marchers, it not only gave him much needed and undeserved legitimacy on the world stage, it also falsely underscored an international impression as a peace seeking moderate.
For his part, Netanyahu acted during the march in manner that gave neither honor nor prestige to his position. After missing the bus that took the other leaders to the rally, Netanyahu ended up in the second row of the marchers. Determined to get up front, he stepped up to warmly greet Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who was marching in from of him. After the two shook hands, Netanyahu proceeded to elbow his way into the first row, displacing Keita for a brief moment. After a few seconds, place was made for the pushy Israeli premier, but not before he made a fool of himself and the country he represented.
While the other world leaders maintained a solemn and serious composure, Netanyahu looked cheerful at times, waving to the crowd in response to a pro-Israel shout.
But his conduct during the march pales in comparison to the irresponsibility he exhibited in public statements before and after it.
“To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home,” Netanyahu declared in a speech he gave in Israel following the horrific murders of four Jews in the Kosher supermarket in Paris.
On Sunday night, standing next to the French President Francois Holland, at a gathering in the Great Synagogue of Paris, Netanyahu did it again.
“Any Jew who wishes to immigrate to Israel will be welcomed with open arms and warm and accepting hearts. They will not arrive in a foreign land but rather the land of our forefathers. G-d willing, they will come and many of you will come to our home,” Netanyahu said.
At a time when French authorities are scrambling to show that they are taking the security needs of its Jewish citizens seriously, his call was the height of irresponsibility.
For one thing, to insinuate that somehow the Jews residing in Israel are safer than the Jew living in France fly in the face of the painful facts. As the massacre in Har Nof tragically taught us, Jews are in need of Heavenly protection wherever they may be found, and the vicious fangs of Islamic terror can strike anywhere, even in a shul.
Even more disturbing is the message he is sending to the French government. Netanyahu knows full well that even if half of French Jews will heed his call in the coming months – an unlikely possibility – that still will mean that hundreds of thousands of Jews will remain. His call for mass emigration isn’t only insulting to Paris, it is also telling the French leadership that there is no need or purpose to try to protect the Jews of France, they are all leaving to Israel anyway.
Whether or not to leave France at this time is a decision for each individual Jew in France to make. But for an Israeli Prime Minister to issue such a call is wrong and highly counterproductive. Netanyahu would do well by keeping his thoughts – and his hands – to himself..