Netanyahu meets French Jewish leaders, defends attendance at Paris rally

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to visit the site of the Paris supermarket attack less than a day after reports surfaced that the French president asked him to not attend the unity march.

Netanyahu on Monday met with French Jewish community leaders, calling the memorial service the previous night at Paris’ Great Synagogue “a moment of genuine Jewish solidarity,” and the march through the streets of Paris “a moment of general solidarity with humanity.”

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He added in defense of his attendance at the march: “There is great significance in what the world saw, the Prime Minister of Israel marching with all the world leaders in a united effort against terrorism, or at least in a call for unity. This is something the State of Israel has been saying for many years. This is what we are saying here today with one simple addition: If the world does not unite now against terrorism, the blows that terrorism has struck here will increase in a magnitude that can scarcely be conceived; therefore, I hope that Europe will unite. I hope that it will also take action.”

Netanyahu also was scheduled on Monday to visit the kosher supermarket where Friday’s deadly attack occurred, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. No speeches were scheduled for the visit to pay tribute to the four Jewish men who were killed in the attack by a radical Islamist.

Israeli media reported early Monday that French President Francois Hollande in a conversation with Netanyahu on Friday night following the end of the hostage standoff at the Hyper Cacher said he did not want Netanyahu to attend the march for fear it would divert attention from the unity message by adding a focus of the Israel-Palestinian conflict or Muslim-Jewish relations.

According to the reports, when Netanyahu decided to attend Hollande extended an invitation to the Israeli president, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas also attended the march.

Netanyahu originally said he would not attend the Paris march due to security considerations, but reportedly changed his mind after political rivals Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced their intentions to attend.