The biggest news event of a young 2015 culminated Sunday with the biggest march in French history, and Israeli papers, like much of the rest of the world, are justifiably captivated by the hugeness of the rally and its anti-terror message. But unlike France, where unity was the word of the day, Israeli papers are flecked with second guessing and criticism over everything from Benjamin Netanyahu’s role in the march to the increased calls for French Jews to head for Israel as a safe haven.
Nearly the whole of Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page is taken up with a shot of the throngs converging on Paris’s Place de la Republique, stamped with a “Non to terror” headline. (Non is “no” in French. Je suis traducteur.)
The paper’s Nahum Barnea, in Paris, calls it the “mother of all protests,” and is utterly delighted to see so many take to the streets, unlike in Israel, where he says they call things a million man march when nobody has arrived yet.
“It was an awesome sea of people, who came to demonstrate not because somebody sent them, or because their government did something to them, or because they thought they would get something, but because they want to show the world where their values lay. ‘I am Charlie,’ the slogan that has accompanied France the last few days, is their ‘I believe.’ The Jews, who came to the rally in throngs, added ‘I am a Jew.’ There were those who strung all the victims in one, saying, ‘I am Charlie, I am a Jew, I am a cop.’ French thinkers were convinced that the atmosphere there will pull the French out of the stupor that assaulted them after the massacre at the weekly’s editorial offices. Even if the march doesn’t birth, as is hoped, a worldwide campaign against jihadi terror, it will at least return self-assurance to the French.”
In Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth, also in Paris, speaks glowingly of the prime minister’s presence at the rally, where he marched alongside dozens of other leaders, and defends his calls for increased immigration to Israel.
“That is the role of the leader of the Jewish state. Did [former prime ministers David] Ben-Gurion and Golda [Meir] hesitate to do the same thing? And Ariel Sharon in his time did exactly the same thing as well, even if it opened up a rift with the French. In 2004 too, there were hard times for the Jews of France, days when the French Jews suffered through hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the Second Intifada. It pains me to tell you the truth, but Netanyahu’s terrible crime is called Zionism.”
Haaretz would like to disagree that that was his only crime, though, running a series of articles questioning Netanyahu’s tactics and speculating on whether the French even wanted him there.
The paper quotes a French source saying Paris preferred Netanyahu not come out of fear that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would distract attention from the real reasons for the rally. The paper reports that when Netanyahu decided at the last minute he would attend, an official in the Elysee Palace told Israeli national security adviser Yossi Cohen that the move would lead to a serious deterioration in Israeli-French ties.
And indeed, according to the report, French President Francois Hollande and Benjamin Netanyahu sat next to each other during a memorial service at a synagogue, but when Netanyahu got up to speak, Hollande left the hall.
The paper’s Yossi Verter also has a “Je suis choqué” aimed at Netanyahu for his classless behavior in shoving his way to front of the line of world leaders.
“There was nothing further from the manners, refinement or style of the Parisians than the behavior of Benjamin Netanyahu,” he writes. “His moves to cut the line, infiltrate onto the first bus and then to shove, elbow and jimmy his way into the first row was so Israeli, so much us, so much Likud Central Committee that you just want to scream out ‘Je suis Bibi!’”
Prizes for terror and immigration poker
It wasn’t only Netanyahu that had some riled up. In Yedioth, Sever Plotzker goes against the grain and angrily calls the massive rally and its attendance by world leaders a “prize for terror,” while wondering why people don’t stand up for much more serious atrocities happening around the world.
“No Muslim terror group has ever gotten such a phenomenal PR victory like this. Most of the leaders (and their followers) came to protest, identify and demonstrate, because it’s easiest to demonstrate. It doesn’t take anything but a pair of good shoes, a winter jacket and a scarf. The practical result of the march of millions is zero, but the symbolic result is clear: Global resonance was given to the actions of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda and to al-Qaeda as a whole.”
Other quill pilots take issue with Jerusalem’s response, a new drive for French immigration in the wake of the attacks.
Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes that having all of France’s Jews run away to Israel is no less than a capitulation to terror, obeying Godwin’s Law along the way.
“This instinctive reaction – perhaps Pavlovian is a better word – should give reason for pause and discomfort, even among the most ardent of Zionists,” he writes. “Because whether French Jews answer these calls by emigrating to Israel or whether they simply take the advice in principle and go somewhere else, in some ways this campaign is no more than blatant capitulation to terror. It gives its instigators a prize they could never have dreamed of: a frenzied flight of Jews, at best, or the complete elimination of Jewish presence in France, at worst. 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.”
Israel Hayom’s Dan Margalit sees Shalev’s mention of the Nazis and raises him an exodus from Egypt and an Abrahamic commandment. He retorts that despite all the hemming and hawing over the righteousness of calling French Jews to Israel, at the end of the day, one of the country’s main purposes is to be a refuge for embattled Jews.
“Whoever is moved to come to Israel after hearing poems from Yehuda Halevi or Haim Nachman Bialik or Naomi Shemer – good for them; but the vast majority of Jews came to Israel in times of crisis. Only 20 percent of the Jews left Egypt in the days of Moses, and most of the escapee immigration from Germany came from rising pressures under the Nazis,” he writes. “Now when a new situation has been created like the threat of Islamist terror against the Jewish community at large, there is no leader of Israel who is exempt from the obligation to promote them fulfilling the commandment the Creator of the World gave Abraham: ‘Go from your home to the land which I will show you.’”