Paris: One Leader Attended and One Did Not
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Bibi Netanyahu correctly went to Paris to offer solidarity to the French people in general and to the French Jewish community in particular during their time of terrible tragedy. Reports suggest that President Hollande indeed did not want Bibi to come lest he deflect attention from the unifying, solidarity rally which the French were seeking to achieve on Sunday. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel was reported to have been asked not to come to Paris for the march lest he (and Abbas) move the focus away from the overall unity theme which Hollande wanted to underscore. In addition, Bibi was accused at home of using his attendance in Paris as a political manuver.
With respect to the Jewish community, the Prime Minister’s appearance and moreso his message in the Grand Synagogue yesterday and this morning at the Kosher Market was indeed cloaked with mixed signals; which have existed since the inception State of Israel. On the one hand, the State of Israel was showing its solidarity with all Jews throughout the world, particularly when they are or appear to be in trouble or under strain. On the other hand, Netanyahu, as well as the other Israeli politicians who made the trip, cannot avoid waving the flag encouraging Aliyah as they have done consistently throughout the existence of the State. Unfortunately, the most critical message for French Jews now—which Hollande repeatedly emphasized as his goal—is to maintain France as country which indeed is hospitable to Jews; a perception which many Israelis do not want to encourage.
As for the failure of President Obama to send a proper representative to the rally, it was clearly an insult to the French and all the other world leaders who understood the obvious importance to attend this rally. The President had numerous options from Vice-President Biden to Secretary of State Kerry to Former Presidents Bush or Clinton etc. (This is without even mentioning Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Jeh Johnson—who both were in Paris for meetings on the terror threat.) As numerous analysts have observed, security details could have been put in place so the United States could have been represented by a higher delegate than the U.S. Ambassador in Paris.
It remains unclear why the Obama White House dissed this obvious move. The conference on combatting terrorism which was mentioned repeatedly and is scheduled for February; was originally to have taken place in late October; so this was nothing new. It would seem that for a President who has underscored the need to protect American citizens from extremists, terrorists, and religious fanatics, his failure to attend or at least send high level representation suggests serious insincerity on his part to the threat as well as an insult to America’s allies.