Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a lesson about French nationalism and solidarity while visiting a Paris synagogue this week.
Netanyahu angered many in France’s Jewish community after remarks he made last Saturday in the wake of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo last week that killed 12 people.
Attempting to use the attack by Islamic extremist to urge Jews to relocate to Israel, Netanyahu said in a 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.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls quickly countered that statement stating “France, without its Jews, is not France.”
As Al Jazeera reported, many European Jewish leaders concurred with the prime minister:
“The head of the largest advocate for the Jewish organizations and communities in Europe sharply criticized Israel’s call for increased immigration of the Continent’s Jews to Israel in the wake of the attacks in Paris,” Haaretz reported Sunday. It quoted an Israeli news site’s report of comments from Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, quoting him as complaining that “after every anti-Semitic attack in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statements about the importance of aliyah [immigration to Israel], rather than employ every diplomatic and informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe.”
“Every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages the Jewish communities that have the right to live securely wherever they are,” said Rabbi Margolin, adding that the “reality is that a large majority of European Jews do not plan to emigrate to Israel.”
Appearing mindful of the potential for controversy, Netanyahu spoke at Paris’ main synagogue Sunday evening. Cautious about calling for outright immigration, Jerusalem Post reported he told the crowd:
I want to say to you what I say to all our Jewish brothers, that you have a full right to live secure and peaceful lives with equal rights wherever you desire, including here in France. These days we are blessed with another privilege, a privilege that didn’t exist for generations of Jews – the privilege to join their brothers and sisters in their historic homeland of Israel.
At one point, some youths in the audience began shouting “Vive l’Israel,” while others countered with chants of “Vive la France.”
Reminiscent of the scene of Nazis singing the German National Anthem in “Casablanca,” the crowd spontaneously began singing the French national anthem as you can see in the video below.
h/t to Leslie Salzillo for the heads-up