It was the first time in 12 years that such an important event, featuring Israel, is organized in France, and more than 15,000 people attended.
In the last 10 years, a feeling of insecurity has surged among French Jews, following several acts of anti-Semitism, stemming from a climate of social unrest in France. French aliya rose by 63 percent in 2013.
Efi Stenzler, world chairman of the KKL-JNF, told The Jerusalem Post that the Jewish community especially asked the organization to take the lead in the event, as it has always been a bridge between Israel and the Diaspora.
Entitled “Israel today and tomorrow” the conference aimed to present the French public with the diversity of initiatives and achievements made by Israeli society today.
Stenzler insisted that “the purpose of the exhibition is to show to the Jewish people, and to the non-Jewish people as well, the new and the real face of Israel.”
KKL-JNF wished to promote and publicize the wide scope of its action in the last 100 years.
Exhibitions about the Hula Lake Park and the Adullam park presented the organization’s efforts to protect the environment as well as foster the ecological development of the State of Israel – by creating water reservoirs and planting trees.
Israeli entrepreneurs gathered to portray the variety and the vigorousness of research in Israel. From nanotechnology and environmentally friendly technologies to medical care and smartphone applications.
Universities such as Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem were present, eager to present their latest research breakthroughs.
The political and social context, however, was omnipresent and officials spoke with one voice on the subject.
Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau said “I’m here to express solidarity and meet the Jewish community of France at times when the old, classic anti-Semitism is surging again. Extremists try to undermine the right of the Jewish people to have a state of their own in Israel, but we are here, shoulder to shoulder, with the French Jews.”
Raymond Bunan, chairman of the KKL-JNF in France, said the conference was organized at the right moment, at a time when it was of specific importance to present Israel under a more positive light, in order to contrast with the “caricature” that is usually broadcast by the media.
About the rise of anti-Semitism in France, Bunan gave an example of the dynamics at work: “25 years ago, a Jewish tomb was desecrated in southern France. It was a local, individual, act of anti-Semitism. Yet, it brought 1 million people in the streets of Paris, in support of the Jewish community. It was heart-warming to see that the French population was so sensitive and quick to react.
“Last week however, extremists walked the streets of Paris crying “Jews, get out of France!” Today, it is not the French government that is indifferent but the French population,” he said.
The French Parliament representative of the French people in Israel Meyer Habib hailed the efforts of the French government in fighting racism and anti-Semitism, especially in the latest events regarding French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala.
Habib said that it was the mission and the core values of France to fight intolerance, hatred and anti-Semitism.
Words of support to the French Jewish community came from all Israeli ministers who attended the event, including Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon. They insisted that it was of grave importance to support the French Jewish community and to defend their right to live safely in the Diaspora.
The KKL-JNF hopes that this event is the first of many and that it will be able to make this an annual rendez-vous.