Food trucks, concerts, games, sports ... and a protest. All this and more can be expected on Thursday when the Paris municipality recreates Tel Aviv’s beaches on the banks of the Seine. It’s one of the first cities to be honored in the annual Paris Plages (Paris Beaches) event, but the choice has proved controversial.
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For some of France’s far-left politicians, far-right figures and activists calling for a boycott of Israel, having Israelis serve food, play music and hand out beach chairs and rackets with Tel Aviv written on them is intolerable. Paris councilor Danielle Simonnet, from the radical left party Front de Gauche, called the move “indecent.”
Although Paris Plages runs for a month every summer, the actual Tel Aviv-sur-Seine event is for one day only.
“Exactly one year after the Israeli state and army massacres in the Gaza Strip, and while the Israeli government intensifies its colonizing policies, the city of Paris dares to organize an event honoring Tel Aviv and its festive atmosphere,” Simonnet wrote on her website.
“There’s still time to cancel this event or radically change the program, introducing debates” over last year’s events and the current situation, Simonnet added on Monday.
The event had enjoyed a fairly low profile, until the municipality issued the official press release and invitation to the media recently. Now, pro-Palestinian movements, including EuroPalestine, are calling for a massive protest at the event.
“Apartheid on the Seine!” “This is PR for a terrorist state!” “Everyone to Paris Plages this Thursday” were just some of the slogans on EuroPalestine’s website. Dozens even started protesting on the Parisian riverbank over the weekend.
For the past two days, social media sites – mainly Facebook and Twitter – have been home to battles between those opposed to Tel Aviv-sur-Seine (“Tel Aviv on the Seine”) and those backing it. French news station BFMTV ran a poll asking viewers to say whether they were “shocked” by Tel Aviv’s association with Paris Plages. The results fluctuated from hour to hour, but 70 percent of voters eventually admitted to being shocked by the move.
Meanwhile, Crif – the umbrella organization of French Jewry – says that those opposing Tel Aviv’s participation have anti-Semitic motives, since they never take an interest in any other world conflict.
“Please share our message, so that the so-called anti-Zionists, including some elected officials, stop voicing their messages full of anti-Semitic undertones,” Crif wrote on its Facebook page.
The French police had been preparing for possible attempts to disrupt the event for weeks, before any criticism had been voiced. The city refuses to cancel the event, but says it will deploy high security around it.
“Everything is ready to go as planned,” Lionel Choukroun, the man organizing Tel Aviv-sur-Seine, told Haaretz on Monday. The agency he heads, L’Agence Culturelle, was contacted in May when Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo met her counterpart, Ron Huldai, in Tel Aviv.
The initiative is part of a cooperation program between Paris, Israeli and Palestinian cities, signed by previous city mayor Bertrand Delano. City hall says it has simultaneously launched a water management program in Bethlehem.
While the municipality stands by its decision, officials stress that Tel Aviv is the invitee, not the Israeli government – whose policies they criticize.
“Don’t confuse Tel Aviv, a city symbolizing tolerance and peace, with the Israeli government’s brutal policies,” tweeted Deputy Mayor Bruno Julliard.
Despite the pressure, Julliard said Monday that “canceling the event would mean we agree with the most radical people.”
On Sunday, Israeli songs and dances had already begun on the riverbank. The JewSalsa group organized an event that it’s been staging twice a week since last year’s Paris Plages. This time, though, it received far more attention. A video it posted online received tens of thousands of views and was described by some as a “Tel Aviv-sur-Seine preview.” The association holds massive salsa, Yiddish, Mizrahi and klezmer concerts in various languages with hundreds of participants, many non-Jewish. Often seen by France’s traditional Jewish community as not being observant enough, the group is now being praised by the same community for its courage.
“Some Jews used to wrongly criticize us for ‘encouraging assimilation,’ and called us ‘shameful Jews’ for organizing a gay-friendly dance in memory of the tragedy at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride,” JewSalsa’s David Pergament told Haaretz, referring to last month’s stabbing attack that left a 16-year-old girl dead and five participants in the parade wounded. “Now there’s tension over Tel Aviv’s participation in Paris Plages, our exact same dancing event is being hailed,” he added.