French President Francois Hollande did not want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend Sunday’s historic march in Paris, believing the Israeli leader’s presence at the rally would be “divisive,” Israeli media reported Sunday.
Netanyahu initially accepted Paris’s wishes and on Saturday cited security concerns to explain why he would not attend the event, which was organized in a show of solidarity and defiance after terrorist attacks in the French capital, which claimed 17 lives. Among the victims were four Jews at a kosher supermarket and a Muslim police officer.
However, the Prime Minister changed his mind later Saturday after Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett announced they would join the march, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported.
When Netanyahu’s office told the Elysee Palace that he would be coming after all, France responded by highlighting that it was extending an invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the report. The French government also announced a planned meeting between Hollande and Abbas Saturday night.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
On Sunday, Hollande and world leaders, including Netanyahu and Abbas, marched in the mammoth procession, which began near where gunmen killed 12 people at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week.
Netanyahu was initially situated in a second row of leaders, but shimmied his way into the front row, alongside Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU Council President Donald Tusk and Abbas.
Some 1.5 million people marched in the massive rally, the largest of a series of demonstrations around France that brought some 3.7 million people out into the streets, according to figures cited by AFP.
The leaders observed a minute’s silence as the march got underway.
A sea of humanity flowed through Paris’s iconic streets, breaking into applause and spontaneous renditions of the national anthem, as a shell-shocked France mourned the victims of three days of bloody violence.
Organizers put the crowd at the historic march at between 1.3 and 1.5 million.
Emotions ran high in the grieving City of Light, with many of those marching bursting into tears as they came together under the banner of freedom of speech and liberty after France’s worst terrorist bloodbath in more than half a century.