Housing Minister Uri Ariel plans to move a possible influx of French immigrants to West Bank settlements and has instructed authorities to look at ways to expand existing settlements to make room for them.
In a letter sent Monday to the Yesha council of settler leaders, the minister told settlement officials to prepare to absorb a wave of French immigration in the wake of the Paris terror attacks that will be keen to join Jewish communities over the Green Line, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported Tuesday night, showing the letter on screen.
“There is no doubt that the Jews of France feel a deep identity with the settlement movement in the West Bank,” Ariel wrote. “And that is where they will want to establish their home.”
Ariel, a member of the national-religious Jewish Home party led by Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, ordered relevant authorities in his ministry and the Israel Land Authority to expand current settlements to receive the immigrants.
He also tasked the Yesha council, that coordinates settlement activity, to find suitable sites for expansion in Jewish communities in the West Bank, the report said.
Ariel has been an outspoken supporter of settlement expansion, even as the enterprise has come under increasingly severe criticism from the international community, which views settlement activity as a roadblock to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
France and other Western countries have leveled considerable criticism against settlement activity, with the EU threatening sanctions against Israel. In late December, Paris voted in favor of a failed UN Security Council resolution setting a two-year timetable for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
Ariel’s missive came as Israeli leaders have stepped up a drive for French Jews to move to Israel in the face of increasing anti-Semitism, culminating in an attack on a kosher supermarket Friday by an Islamist gunman that left four Jewish men dead. The four Jewish victims were laid to rest in Jerusalem earlier Tuesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman have both urged French Jews to move to Israel in the wake of the series of terror attacks that rocked France last week.
France is home to the third largest Jewish community in the world. Some 7,000 Jews from the country moved to Israel in 2014, a record number that officials expect to be topped in coming years.
Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky recently said he sees over 100,000 Jews moving to Israel from France in the next two decades.
On Sunday, Liberman and Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett traveled to Paris to take part in a mass unity march in the French capital against terrorism and to attend an immigration to Israel fair organized by the local Jewish community.
“The most important message for French Jews is: immigrate to Israel,” Liberman said at the fair. “If you are looking for security and a safer future for your children there is no other alternative.”
Liberman’s call on French Jews to move to Israel echoed a similar declaration from Netanyahu over the weekend in a televised statement.
“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,” he said, referring to the Jewish practice of facing Jerusalem during prayer.
Other government ministers and top Israeli politicians have also appealed to French Jewry to move to Israel in the face of growing fear from anti-Semitism in France.
However, French officials have apaprently expressed dismay over the calls. On Saturday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told a rally outside the attacked Hyper Cacher market that France without Jews would not be France, a sentiment he repeated on Tuesday and one that was echoed by French Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal, representing France at the Jerusalem funeral ceremony.
The trail of slaughter began last Wednesday when Islamic extremist brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi killed 10 workers at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo as well as two policemen. A day later Amedy Coulibaly killed a policewoman before his final deadly assault on the Hyper Cacher store in Paris on Friday. All three gunmen were eventually killed by police.