PARIS - Security was especially tight around the elegant Paris Municipality building last night as top French politicians, intellectuals and Jewish community figures gathered to mark two decades since the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Scheduled to take place in November, the ceremony was postponed following that month’s terrorist attacks in the city, and also because of the COP21 international climate conference held 10 days later.
The guests included French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog and former Labor Party director-general and ambassador to France Nissim Zvili. French journalist Claire Chazal hosted the evening, telling the audience about her experiences broadcasting from Jerusalem shortly after the assassination.
The Paris Municipality said the ceremony was “very important to us.”
“It is a joint project that continues the ceremony we had 10 years ago, and it is especially meaningful in view of the close ties between Paris and its twin cities Tel Aviv and Haifa,” a municipal spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post.
Patrick Klugman, the mayor’s deputy and responsible for international relations at the municipality, told the Post that the ceremony had become something of a “sacred tradition” to the city, a way of bringing to light again the Oslo Accords and perpetuating Rabin’s legacy of peace.
Last night’s event took place in a municipal hall lit by grand chandeliers hanging from a gold-painted ceiling.
In his remarks, Herzog noted that participating in the commemoration was of utmost importance to him.
“This event is the reason and the heart of my visit here,” he told the Post, ‘’commemorating prime minister Rabin and his vision of peace, together with so many others here who also believe in this vision.”
He congratulated Hidalgo for her leadership during the difficult months Paris has faced, and thanked Valls for his strong commitment to protect the Jewish community.
“I am especially moved to be here, not just as head of... the party of Rabin, but also because the story of my own family is linked to that of the city, with my grandfather, who established a synagogue here, with my father who took part in the Normandy battles to liberate France,” he said.
“Paris will always be the city of light, against the darkness of terror,” he added, concluding his remarks by proclaiming in French: “Long live France! Long live Israel! Long live the friendship between our two peoples!” The long list of speakers also included Valls, Hidalgo, Zvili and Israel’s current ambassador to France, Aliza Bin-Nun.
Roger Cukierman, president of the French Jewish community (CRIF), and philosopher Bernard- Henri Levy spoke as well.
“We are two sister nations,” said Valls. “Our friendship will never end, will never stop us from advancing toward the horizon of a durable peace, with two states living side by side in security.... France will do all in its power to combat those who boycott, because Israel is a democracy and France will never boycott a democracy.”
Hidalgo said the city’s “link with the Jewish soul is strong, and we cannot understand Paris without it.” She added that striving for peace required acknowledging the State of Israel and at the same time a Palestinian state.
Jewish film director Philippe Bensoussan premiered his documentary recounting Rabin’s last years, focusing on negotiations with the Palestinians and the Oslo process. And what better way to end such a unique evening than by Israeli star Ahinoam Nini singing “Shir Lashalom,” the song of hope Rabin sang just moments before his death.