Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a storm of criticism because of his “embarrassing” behaviour at Sunday’s mass solidarity march in Paris and his calls for French Jews to emigrate to Israel following last week’s deadly attack on a Jewish supermarket.
The Israeli prime minister was seen elbowing his way to the front of the parade of world leaders and also unsuccessfully tried to jump to the head of queue waiting for a bus that was to take guests to the starting point.
After he failed to get on the first bus, a nervous-looking Mr Netanyahu – accompanied by what appeared to be an Israeli security team – wasshown on French video footage waiting for the next one.
During the march, Mr Netanyahu waved to the crowd in response to a pro-Israel shout from a woman spectator, a gesture some Israeli commentators deemed to be at odds with the sombre mood.
The alleged gaffes were further compounded by reports that the Israeli leader attended the event in defiance of a request to stay away from Francois Hollande, the French president, who reportedly did not want it overshadowed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr Netanyahu initially agreed but changed his mind after learning that two political rivals – Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, and Naftali Bennett, the industry minister and leader of the Jewish Home party – were going.
His insistence on attending prompted the French authorities to invite Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader, as a counterweight, reported the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The most serious criticism has been levelled at his call for members of France’s Jewish community – the largest in Europe – to move to Israel for safety reasons following last Friday’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris, in which four Jews were killed.
Even before his plane departed for Paris, Mr Netanyahu issued a statement saying that he planned to tell French Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel that they would be “welcomed with open arms”.
That is said to have offended Mr Hollande, who attended a rally at Paris’ grand synagogue on Sunday night with Mr Netanyahu but pointedly left before the Israeli leader addressed the audience.
Mr Netanyahu’s appeal for emigration, echoed by some other Israeli politicians, was criticised by European Jewish leaders and – implicitly – by Reuven Rivlin, the Israeli president, who said aliyah (emigration) should be born out of choice and Zionist feelings rather than fear of anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, said that instead of calling for Jews to emigrate after anti-Semitic attacks, Israel should “employ every diplomatic and informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life in Europe”, an Israeli website reported.
Ben Caspit, an experienced Israeli commentator, mocked Mr Netanyahu’s attempt to portray Israel as a safe haven. “Are the Jews of Paris more threatened than us?,” he asked in Maariv newspaper. “All of Israel’s territory is targeted by thousands of accurate and heavy rockets and missiles that could be fired on our heads in the next flare-up with Hizbullah. Just this past summer, Tel Aviv (Tel Aviv!) was a city that was bombed for 50 days. So the French should flee here?”