Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu risked evoking the wrath of the Jewish religious world by making a highly unusual Shabbat appearance at the funeral of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl in Strasbourg, France on Saturday evening.
Netanyahu's presence in the ceremony at the European Parliament, along with wife Sara, caused many to raise eyebrows as it is uncommon for Israeli leaders to participate in public events on Shabbat, which is considered a holy day of rest.
However, a statement released by the Prime Minister's Office stressed the the premier did not violate the Shabbat by attending the ceremony, making a rare note of the fact that he arrived at the European Parliament building on foot from his hotel (instead of using a car) and even going so far as to point out that he declined to make a speech or sign the guestbook in order to honor Shabbat traditions.
Kohl died at the age of 87 on June 16.
“His sympathy for Israel and Zionism is reflected in my many meetings with him,” Netanyahu said on Saturday in memory of the former chancellor, “and his position was always firmly in favor of Israel, which has been steadily present in Europe and in other international forums.”
The prime minister and his wife also surprised congregants praying at the Strasbourg synagogue when they arrived for an unexpected visit on Saturday evening.
Netanyahu told the community's chief rabbi and the Jewish community members who came for prayers at the synagogue that he "came here to respect the memory of a great friend of the State of Israel, Helmut Kohl, here at the European Parliament, but of course there's no visit that doesn't include a visit with the Jewish community and I am glad to see you here preserving Israel's tradition."
This is not the first time the premier gets tangled up in controversy over religious issues, angering the religious community in Israel and abroad. The past two weeks saw Netanyahu at the helm of a crisis that some fear has sparked a rift between Israel and the Diaspora after the government froze a plan to open an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall and advanced a bill making the country's Chief Rabbinate the sole supervisor of conversion in Israel.
The burial ceremony was also attended by world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and former US president Bill Clinton.
Netanyahu thanked Merkel before the funeral for concluding procedures ahead of the signing of a memorandum of understanding for security assistance between both nations after Germany's National Security Council reportedly approved the sale of three advanced submarines to Israel on Saturday.
According to the report, Israel will receive three more Dolphin submarines in a $1.5 billion deal with German shipmaker ThyssenKrupp.
Netanyahu also spoke to Macron in the event, and the latter reportedly told Netanyahu that he expects him to attend an event in Paris marking the 75th anniversary of the Jewish expulsion from France, scheduled for two weeks from today. Netanyahu along with Macron are both slated to speak at the event.Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.