Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined with French President Francois Hollande on Thursday in remembering victims of an al Qaeda-inspired gunman, with both pledging to fight anti-Semitism in France and around the globe.
The ceremony for the seven people shot dead in March in the south of France, including three Jewish children and a rabbi, came on the second and final day of Netanyahu’s first official visit to France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish population.
“Every time a Jew is targeted for being Jewish, Israel is concerned. That’s why you are here,” Hollande told Netanyahu in front of an auditorium of invited guests at the Ohr Torah school in Toulouse where the four Jews were killed in March.
Hollande, who represents for Israel a key Western ally against Iran, called the guarantee of safety for Jews in France “a national cause”.
Security was tight at the school where guests were searched and some 300 police were deployed, some with sniffer dogs.
Netanyahu cited what he called a key difference between the Nazi slaughter of Jews during World War Two and the recent crimes committed in Toulouse.
“In the dark days of Nazism … most European governments did not lift a finger against the madness of anti-Semitism. But today I am here with my friend Francois Hollande, who speaks clearly and resolute against this folly, and fights against it.”
Netanyahu was met with applause when he said Israel would defend Jewish interests around the world through military means, a veiled reference to current tensions with neighbour Iran.
“Today, the Jewish people have their own state. Today the Jewish people have their army. Today … t he Jewish people have the means to defend themselves against those who who want to wipe them from the map.”
French gunman Mohamed Merah, 24, went on a 10-day rampage in March in which he killed three soldiers in two separate attacks before targeting the school. Merah was later killed by police at his apartment after a 30-hour standoff.
His four Jewish victims were buried in Jerusalem.
ALLY AGAINST IRAN
On Wednesday, the two leaders and gave a joint press conference in which Netanyahu praised Franco-Israeli relations, complimented Hollande’s “warmth and openness” and welcomed what he called France’s “strong position” on sanctions against Iran.
France, which holds a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, has pressed for tighter sanctions on Iran, against which Israel has threatened military action if it refuses to halt its disputed nuclear programme.
Relations between Netanyahu and Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, hit a rocky patch last year after a gaffe in which Sarkozy was overheard telling U.S. President Barack Obama he thought Netanyahu was “a liar”.
Netanyahu said Hollande and his predecessors had shown a “clear determination” to fight anti-Semitism, but cited what he called a new threat in which radicalised youths from the gritty outskirts of French cities target Jews.
“It’s new type of anti-Semitism that comes from new quarters, very violent quarters, and I think there is a recognition that this doesn’t merely threaten the Jews of France but threatens everyone in France,” Netanyahu said.