Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionist Party, RZP) met on Tuesday night with some heads of some Jewish organizations in France, despite the heads of the country’s major Jewish organizations not attending.
On Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post reported that presidents of the three major Jewish organizations in France were boycotting the Israeli Finance Minister and wouldn’t participate at the meeting - hours before it took place. The presidents of the CRIF (the umbrella organization of French Jews), the Consistoire Centrale (representing the French Orthodox Jewish communities) and the FSJU (unified Jewish social fund) didn’t participated in the meeting, organized at the request of Smotrich’s office and in coordination with the embassy in Paris.
Sources in two major Jewish organizations attempted to backtrack on the no-shows, telling the Post after the two-and-a-half hour meeting that “the French Jewish organizations are not boycotting Smotrich, but the invitation from his staff arrived only a week ago and therefore a number of presidents weren’t able to participate. They made sure that they would have representatives at the meeting.”
The representative of the CRIF was Ariel Amar, member of the executive committee. One of the organizers of the meeting was Arie Abitbol, director of the Jewish Agency's mission in Europe. Other leaders who participated were Zvi Ammar, president of the Consistoire in Marseille; Isaac Barchichat, Deputy Mayor of Saint-Brice; Henri Cukierman, president of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Joel Mergui - president of the Consistoire of the Paris region; rabbis and heads of other organizations.
Smotrich tweeted about the meeting on Tuesday night saying that he “held a meeting this evening with the representatives of the Jewish communities and organizations [in France]: the CRIF, the Consistoire, KKL-JNF, The Jewish Agency, rabbis of communities and others.”
בערב קיימתי מפגש עם נציגי הקהילות והארגונים היהודים - הקריף, הקונסיסטואר, קק"ל, הסוכנות, רבני קהילות ועוד - לדיון על קשרי ישראל והקהילות היהודיות בצרפת, על אתגרי הקהילות ותפקידה של המדינה, ועל חיזוק העליה מצרפת לישראל שמוביל ידידי שר הקליטה @ofir_sofer. pic.twitter.com/KeSBUrixYc— בצלאל סמוטריץ' (@bezalelsm) June 6, 2023
Discussions held during the meeting
He added that the purpose of the meeting was “to discuss the relations between Israel and the Jewish communities in France, the challenges of the communities and the role of Israel [in assisting them] and the strengthening of aliyah from France to Israel,” he wrote and tagged Aliyah and Integration Minister Ofir Sofer, who is a member of his party.
According to the statement, Smotrich said that "The connection of Diaspora Jewry with the State of Israel is strong and deep."
One of the participants at the meeting told the Post that Smotrich shared his thoughts regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that Jews who weren’t Israeli citizens couldn’t enter Israel for months at a time. “The minister said that he would like to apologize for the fact that Israel wasn’t open for them and that he now understands that this type of policy causes damage to the relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel,” the participant told the Post. During the pandemic, families were torn apart and Israel was in closure for long periods of time. This especially affected the French Jewish community, the third largest Jewish community in the world, since many of its members visit Israel a number of times a year in order to meet their families or in order to conduct business. There were also many issues regarding the burial of French Jews in Israel during the pandemic.
During the meeting, the participants raised issues such as the state of aliyah to Israel and difficulties that professionals in the medical fields from France encounter when trying to immigrate to Israel.
Smotrich arrived in Paris to participate at the two-day ministerial meeting of the OECD, which is the senior annual event of the organization. The OECD conference starts on Wednesday morning.
Rina Bassist contributed to this report.