JERUSALEM — They were buried Tuesday not in the land where they had made their homes but in what was described as their homeland. The funeral for the four Jews killed Friday in a terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris was at once emotional and political, underscoring the tension roiling in recent days between a call for mass immigration to Israel and a demand to protect diaspora communities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel repeated his “open arms” invitation to all French Jews, which had sparked a backlash over the weekend.
“Jews have the right to live in many countries, and it is their right to live in perfect safety, but I believe that they know deep in their hearts that they have only one country, the state of Israel, that will accept them with open arms, like beloved children,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Today more than ever, Israel is our true home, and the more numerous we are, and the more united we are in our country, the stronger we are in our one and only state.”
Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, also told the Jews of France that “we yearn to see you settle in Zion,” but said immigration “need not be due to distress, out of desperation, because of destruction, or in the throes of terror and fear.”
“The land of Israel is the land of choice — we want you to choose Israel because of a love for Israel,” he said. “Dear families, aside the graves of your loved ones, we promise that we will continue to fight for your right to live as Jews — wherever you may be.”
The noon service, under a clear blue sky and warm sun, drew several thousand people to a hilltop cemetery called Mount of Rest where, less than three years before, a similar funeral was held for three children and a rabbi killed in an attack by a Muslim extremist on a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Many in the crowd were newcomers from France, the largest feeder country to Israel last year with nearly 7,000 immigrants, almost twice the number in 2013.
“It could have been us,” said Shany Braun, 17, who moved here in September and came to the funeral with 35 young Frenchwomen studying in a Jerusalem seminary. “All our families are in France; it’s like our brothers.”
French flags were interspersed with Israeli ones on the city’s main roads, and placards had been posted in various neighborhoods saying “Jerusalem embraces the French people.” Radio stations played French music.
The parking lot where the service was held was ringed only by Israel’s blue-and-white Star of David emblem, and the mourners sang the Israeli national anthem.
The French Embassy in Tel Aviv estimates that there are 130,000 to 150,000 French citizens in Israel. The coastal city of Netanya has been nicknamed the Israeli Riviera, and there are plenty of patisseries and Francophone synagogues there as well as in certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and the beachside towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon. French companies have set up call centers here, and Le P’tit Hebdo — “The Little Weekly” — offers news nuggets and listings for housing and religious classes in the native tongue.
“It’s easier for newcomers to be absorbed in the country because you can continue to live a part of the way of life in France,” said Avi Zana, who immigrated 35 years ago and runs an organization to help French immigrants settle here. “Immigration is not like it was in the past, you don’t leave everything behind you when you leave France, today you are constantly in contact.”
The fate of French Jewry has been a matter of intense debate since the 2012 murders in Toulouse Some Jews say they feel unsafe wearing skullcaps or otherwise identifying publicly in the face of what they see as rising anti-Semitism. at the same time, France’s increasing criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, and its support last month for a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, have, for some, created a sense of political alienation.
Mr. Netanyahu, who is seeking a fourth term as prime minister in March elections, came to the funeral after two days in Paris, where his every move stirred controversy.
Some news organizations reported that President François Hollande had asked him not to join Sunday’s solidarity march for fear his presence would distract from the larger message (officials at Élysée Palace and in Jerusalem denied this, saying the only hesitation was over security logistics). Mr. Netanyahu was skewered on social media for waving to the crowd during the march and muscling his way to the first row from the second (aides said the wave was responding to a call of “the people of Israel live” and that he was invited to join other world leaders in front). Columnists who are relentlessly critical of the prime minister relentlessly criticized his performance as crass, cynical and full of chutzpah.
“It is possible to maintain elementary rules of etiquette outwardly, and at the same time to act wisely in order to open the door to as many French Jews as possible,” Ben Caspit wrote Monday in the Israeli daily Maariv.
In the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz, Chemi Shalev called Mr. Netanyahu’s response “Pavlovian” and warned: “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,” or free of Jews.
The stay-or-go dilemma was an undercurrent at the funeral, where many of the mourners said they have relatives in France newly contemplating packing their bags. Expanding the slogan that has gripped the world since Wednesday’s massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, some mourners held signs that said, in French: “I am Charlie, I am Jewish, I am Israeli, I am French, I am fed up.”
Family members lit torches next to the bodies, wrapped in Jewish prayer shawls, belonging to the victims: Yoav Hattab, who grew up in Tunisia but was studying in Paris; Yohan Cohen, 22, who worked in the Hyper Cacher market and, according to news reports, died while trying to disarm the gunman; Philippe Braham, 45, a schoolteacher and father of four; and Francois-Michel Saada, 63, whose two children are among the new throngs of French-Israelis.
“All his life he loved Israel,” said Mr. Saada’s son, Jonathan. “He really wanted to live here, and he will. He’s here now, and I’m sure he’s really happy to be with you here.”
Mr. Braham’s widow, Valerie, could not contain tears as she spoke about him as a “perfect person” and recalled that they had buried their 3-year-old son in Jerusalem four years ago.
“Today, he is with my son,” she said, broken yet poised. “I cry, but I know that you are all crying with me.”
Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting.
Recommended article: Chomsky: We Are All – Fill in the Blank.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
(via NY Times)