(Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coupled a show of solidarity with France on Sunday with a reminder to shaken French Jews that Israel is keen to welcome them as immigrants.
Netanyahu and two far-right members of his cabinet flew to Paris on Sunday to join dozens of foreign leaders and hundreds of thousands of French citizens in a march honoring the victims of Islamist militant attacks this week.
The timing of his message that “Israel is also your home” could clash with attempts by French leaders to reassure Europe’s largest Jewish community after the shock assaults that included hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket.
In a statement late on Saturday, Netanyahu said an Israeli governmental committee would convene in the coming week to find ways to boost Jewish immigration from France and other European countries “which are being hit by terrible anti-Semitism.”
“To all the Jews of France and to all the Jews of Europe, I wish to say: the State of Israel is not only the place to which you pray, the State of Israel is also your home,” he said.
In 2004, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon angered Paris by urging French Jews to flee “the wildest anti-Semitism” in their native country and come to Israel.
In remarks to reporters as he boarded the flight to Paris, Netanyahu avoided any outright call for France’s 550,000 Jews to leave. He said only he would tell them that “any Jew who wants to immigrate to Israel will be received here with open arms.”
Under Israel’s Law of Return, anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent has a right of immigration to Israel and, once there, can receive Israeli citizenship automatically.
Faced with an upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks and threats, some 7,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel last year, an unprecedented number for that community, according to Israel’s quasi-governmental Jewish Agency.
Moshe Sebbag, rabbi of Paris’ Grand Synagogue, told Israel’s Army Radio he believed that figure could double this year.
Seventeen people, including journalists and policemen, lost their lives in three days of violence that began with a shooting attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday and ended with a hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket on Friday. The three gunmen were also killed.
The prospect of increased immigration from France was largely welcomed in the Israeli media. But some commentators noted newcomers would have to contend with Israel’s own vulnerability to attacks by Palestinian and other militants.