French Jews happy about Schalit release, fear price

European Jewish communities also planning events to celebrate Gilad's freedom; non-Jewish France largely uninterested.

October 17, 2011 20:47
3 minute read.
Gilad Schalit poster, France

Gilad Schalit poster, France_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

For the Jewish community of France, which incessantly campaigned to raise awareness to the plight of Gilad Schalit, the expected release of the Israeli soldier who holds French citizenship will be a bitter-sweet moment, French Jews said on Monday.

Sweet because the IDF soldier held captive by the Islamic terrorist group, will be set free, but bitter because of the heavy price paid to achieve that end – letting over 1,000 convicts out of prison in return.

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“From what I hear, up until now, French Jews are happy but cautious,” said Claude Meyer, the assistant editor in chief of Actualite Juive, a weekly Jewish newspaper in France. “They are worried about the price paid for the release. Everybody mentions it in their conversation.”

Phillipe Karsenty, the Jewish deputy mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, an affluent suburb of Paris, spoke of his ambivalence over decision of the Israeli government.

“First, I don’t want to interfere with any Israeli politics,” said Karsenty. “I think it would be great to have him home, but I’m not sure it is good in terms of strategy.

This I say as an observer. I think politics shouldn’t be made without feelings.”

Karsenty, who is a hawk and has often criticized the French government over its policy toward Israel, opined that Schalit’s French citizenship had little to no effect on securing his release.

“To me it had no influence,” he said. “Schalit was French only for French Jews. To non-Jews in France he was not French. French President Nicolas Sarkozy played the game counting him as a French hostage, but he didn’t really see it that way.”

Of a different opinion is Valerie Hoffenberg, France’s former special envoy to the Middle East.

“Sarkozy was very eager for him to be released,” said the Jewish diplomat. “There were several attempts by the French government to have him set free. Noam Schalit had more meetings with Sarkozy than Netanyahu.”

Hoffenberg, who left her position in the summer, but remains close to the French president, said most people she spoke with in the Jewish community felt relieved, and expressed pride in Israel’s willingness to sacrifice so much for the life of just one of its soldiers.

Like their brethren in Israel, French Jewry has been following the deal closely since news broke late last week that Schalit was expected to be swapped. The agreement caught Actualite Juive just as it was in the process of finalizing its weekly edition, throwing a spanner in the works.

“We come out every Wednesday and when we heard about the release we changed the whole paper,” said Meyer.

“Now we have several articles about the deal, Hamas and an article on the subject by CRIF head Richard Prasquier.”

While French Jews are keeping constantly updated about Schalit, the rest of the nation remains largely indifferent, Meyer said.

“They’re not very concerned about it, except people who really fought for the release for years, and several politicians have done so,” she said. “Otherwise, France has had several hostages that have almost never been announced on the news. So, ordinary French people today are reading the newspapers and are more interested in the socialist party’s candidates for the presidency than Schalit.”

Meanwhile, Jewish communities elsewhere in Europe were also preparing for the big day.

Just across the channel from France, the Zionist Federation UK was organizing a rally in the north London neighborhood of Hendon in support for Schalit’s release.

“Although we recognize the very high price that Israel has had to pay to ensure his release, Israel has once again shown the value it places on each and every one of its citizens,” it said in a press release.

“We look forward to seeing Gilad safely in the arms of his loving family.”

The event, which is expected to draw around 300 people, including local MPs, will be held at 6 p.m. local time at the corners of Brent Street and Bell Lane.

Click for full JPost coverage of Gilad Schalit

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