Israel PM joins Paris Holocaust memorial
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will today (Sunday) honour the victims of a mass deportation of French Jews to Nazi camps 75 years ago.
French Jewish leaders are giving speeches at the site of the cycling stadium, Velodrome D’Hiver or Vel d’Hiv, in Paris, where French police rounded up around 13,000 people, including about 4,000 children, on July 16-17 in 1942, before they were sent to camps, mainly Auschwitz. It is estimated that fewer than 100 survived.
They were held in inhumane conditions for four days in the velodrome, which was demolished in 1959.
Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to attend the Vel d’Hiv commemorations.
The tragic episode was controversially debated during the most recent presidential campaign as National Front candidate Marine Le Pen claimed that France was “not responsible for the Vel d’Hiv”. She came under heavy criticism for the comment. Former president Jacques Chirac had recognised French responsibility in July 1995, a position taken up by his successors.
Pro-Palestinian groups and other activists protested against Netanyahu on his arrival in France to criticise Jewish settlement building and the blockade of Gaza.
The Union of French Jews for Peace, a pro-Palestinian organisation, said Netanyahu’s attendance at the event was “shocking” and “unacceptable”.
Elie Barnavi, a former Israeli ambassador to France, told AFP: “The presence of Netanyahu makes me a little uneasy. This story has nothing to do with Israel.”
Macron, under fire for inviting Donald Trump to mark Bastille Day with him, said it was a “natural gesture” to invite Netanyahu. He told Journal du Dimanche that he was “not trying to confuse the subject of the commemoration and Franco-Israeli relations”.
The right-wing prime minister told a gathering that included Jewish groups and Holocaust survivors: “I’m here to mourn the victims. Seventy-five years ago, a heavy darkness descended on this city… It seems the values of the French revolution — equality, fraternity, liberty — was crushed brutally under the boot of anti-Semitism.”
Netanyahu’s previous official visit to France was to attend a unity march following the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, police officers and a kosher supermarket in January 2015.
On Friday, two Israeli police officers were killed and a third wounded by three Israeli-Arabs in a gun attack in Jerusalem close to the religious site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. The attackers were reportedly killed by the Israeli security forces.
The holy site was closed with Israel saying it would reopen today.
Vélodrome d’Hiver in 1909. Picture credit: Flickr