French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to President Reuven Rivlin to “continue and strengthen our fight against antisemitism” on Wednesday.
During a meeting with Rivlin, who is in France on a diplomatic visit to mark the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel and 70 years of bilateral relations between the two countries, Macron emphasized that antisemitism is “absolutely opposed to our values and everything our democracy represents.
“We will never accept any violence or intimidation in our country,” he continued. “We will do everything we can to ensure that antisemitism is eliminated.”
Macron was responding to Rivlin, who expressed concern with the rise in antisemitism in France in recent years. According to a report published in November 2018, in the first nine months of 2018, there was a 69% increase in the number of antisemitic incidents in France.
“In a few days we will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and unfortunately, we see that antisemitism is once again raising its ugly head in France, particularly over the last year,” Rivlin said. “Your government’s position against antisemitism is particularly significant at a time when senior politicians, members of European governments, are no longer embarrassed to be antisemites or to rewrite history.”
The meeting likewise focused on the threat from Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. Rivlin stressed that the Lebanese state is being held hostage by Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah is creating facilities to produce and convert precision-guided missiles in the heart of Beirut under civilian cover and with Iranian support,” the president told Macron. “This threatens Israeli security and could force us to respond, dragging the region into escalation that could badly harm Lebanon.”
Rivlin emphasized that, as the sovereign power, it is the Lebanese government that bears sole responsibility for what happens in its country and that Israel does not distinguish between Hezbollah and the Lebanese state.
“I expect France to exert whatever pressure is necessary on the Lebanese government to display its sovereignty and rid itself of Iranian and Hezbollah involvement that could lead us to war,” Rivlin said.
Macron is scheduled to travel to Lebanon and meet with state leaders in early February.
Regarding the situation in Syria, the president said that Israel will not allow the build-up of Iranian presence in Syria
, which would be a direct threat to Israel and the region.
“So long as Iran and its proxies continue to establish their presence, Israel will act to defend its security, including acting against the transfer of advanced armaments from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he said.
The president said that its removing Iran from Syria was a shared international interest in pursuit of regional stability.
“Israel and France stand together at the forefront of the fight against terrorism around the world,” he said.
Macron emphasized that when it comes to the Iranian nuclear agreement, France does not agree with Israel. Nonetheless, he said that “Israeli security remains for us one of the most important principles of regional security.
“We believe that we must continue the dialog in order to control Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity,” Macron said. “Because of that, I told the president of my concerns about the recent fire on Israel from Syria.”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Macron stressed France’s position that a solution can only be found through dialogue and mutual respect. He commended Rivlin for his “brave and pragmatic position that we must build trust between the two sides,” and said, “France will do all it can to find a solution on the ground, and when it is found we will support it with all our might.”
Rivlin and Macron participated in an interfaith meeting with the leaders of France’s Jewish and Muslim communities.
The meeting was moderated by author and Warsaw Ghetto survivor Marek Halter, and was attended by dozens of Jewish and Muslim leaders, including the president of the Conference of Imams in France, Hassen Chalghoumi, and the Chief Rabbi of France, Haïm Korsia.
Chalghoumi is an ardent activist of Jewish-Muslim dialogue. He told The Jerusalem Post that recent Israelis ties and visits to Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman and Chad, all convey a message of hope for reconciliation and rapprochement between Jews and Muslims.
Chalghoumi also said that he is now working with other French Muslim leaders to come to Israel with a delegation of some 40 youths.
“Now, when nationalism and religious extremism are rising in the world and in the West, your leadership is vital,” Rivlin said to the interfaith leaders during the event. “What you and the leadership of all the communities say is particularly important at this time – no to antisemitism, zero tolerance for racism of any kind.”
Referring to the different communities living in Israel, Rivlin emphasized that ‘’we were not doomed to live together, we were meant to live together.’’
Chalghoumi said that with Rivlin’s visit “a flame of hope that has been fading has been lit.”
He said, “Racism and antisemitism is rising in Europe now, and this historic meeting is important and meaningful. Unfortunately, Muslim radicals take us hostage, kill in the name of Islam and exploit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in our name. But there is hope in the Jewish world and there is hope in the Muslim world and that is the young people. The future of humanity is in the hands of the children, and they are the hope for the religions coming together.”
Rivlin visited the Hotel national des Invalides, where Napoleon Bonaparte is buried. His wife, Nechama, accompanied him on the trip. She spent Wednesday in meetings with Israeli artists who live and work in Paris.
“The relations between Israel and France have deepened and strengthened over the last 70 years in many fields,” Macron said at the conclusion of the visit.
“When we disagree, we do so as friends and agree from time to time not to agree,” he continued. “The friendship between Israel and France looks to the future and proves that the cooperation between is wide-ranging and constantly expanding. The French community in Israel is the link between our countries and the young people on both sides are our future. We must invest in them.”Maayan Hoffman contributed to this article.