Iran at top of agenda for Netanyahu meetings with Pence, Putin, Macron

Macron clashes with Israeli police, then apologizes on his first visit to Israel, says anti-Zionism is antisemitic.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and France's President Emmanuel Macron meet ahead of the 5th World Holocaust Forum, January 22, 2020.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and France's President Emmanuel Macron meet ahead of the 5th World Holocaust Forum, January 22, 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
France should sanction Iran in light of its enriching uranium and aggression throughout the Middle East, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday.
Iran will be at the center of Netanyahu’s planned meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday. The leaders are among 49 delegations arriving in Israel this week for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem, themed “Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism.”
Netanyahu seeks “snapback sanctions” on Iran, per the world powers’ nuclear deal with Tehran. France, the UK and Germany triggered the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s dispute mechanism, which could lead to UN sanctions on Iran coming back into effect.
Macron arrived on Wednesday for his first official visit to Israel. He will be in Jerusalem for two days and will speak at the main memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem on Thursday. He also plans to visit a memorial for Jews deported from France during the Holocaust, and to speak to a group of hundreds of French expats.
Despite a number of meetings with Israelis that went smoothly, the trip was overshadowed by his outburst at Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officers escorting him in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Macron was caught on camera shouting at Shin Bet officers outside the Church of St. Anne, which is French diplomatic territory. He repeatedly told the officers to leave, saying they were breaking the rules.
French president Jacques Chirac also shouted at Israeli officers when he visited Jerusalem in 1996 because he did not like them standing between him and Palestinian well-wishers.
In the end, one Shin Bet officer accompanied Macron into the Crusader-era church along with French security, as had been planned in advance. Macron apologized to the head of his Israeli security detail when he left the church. He was cordial to President Reuven Rivlin when he arrived at the dinner in the President’s Residence for the visiting leaders, leaving the impression that he put the incident behind him.
During the breakfast meeting with Macron, Netanyahu praised him for France’s request to join the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum. Other members are Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Italy and Jordan, and the US has asked to be a permanent observer.
The prime minister praised Macron for “his strong stance against antisemitism that is also expressed in his visit to Jerusalem.”
Netanyahu encouraged Macron to act to ensure that the murderer of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old woman killed in her home by a man yelling Allahu Akbar, will be punished. The killer claimed insanity, and a court concluded that he is not responsible for his actions because he was too high on drugs.
Netanyahu also asked Macron to petition for the extradition of a man who killed Jews in France, and is currently in Ramallah.
Macron said he would look into the two matters.
The French president met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah later on Wednesday.
Israeli officials said they “weren’t thrilled” that Macron was visiting Abbas during a meeting meant to be focused on remembering the Holocaust and fighting antisemitism.
Rivlin and Macron met soon after and were joined by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who discussed the complex security situation in the Middle East with the French leader.
“I came for Israel for what the Shoah represents and for the memory of the Holocaust to join you in the important statement against antisemitism,” Macron said. “We see the dark shadow of antisemitism spreading across Europe and France.”
He said he is “committed and active” in the fight against antisemitism.
“Anti-Zionism is not different from antisemitism,” Macron said. “This does not mean we cannot disagree… but there is no doubt that today, denying the right of the State of Israel to exist is a modern version of antisemitism.”
Rivlin spoke of how “antisemites recently sought refuge in anti-Zionism.”
“Like other democracies, the State of Israel is open to criticism,” he said. “But we will not allow our right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state in our homeland to be undermined.”
Rivlin lamented the Palestinian petition to the International Criminal Court as an attempt to politicize the court and “drag international institutions to resolve diplomatic and political issues that should be a question for negotiations between states, not criminal-law proceedings.”
He also held working meetings with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
In a comic moment, Macron surprised Rivlin and Anastasiades by grabbing a Government Press Office photographer’s camera to snap some pictures of the other two presidents.
“Ah, we have a wonderful photographer,” Rivlin said, laughing.
Macron also met with Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz and MK Yair Lapid, who he has met several times in the past, going back to when they were both finance ministers.
Gantz and Macron discussed the threat posed by Iran, with Gantz expressing his appreciation for European countries activating the JCPOA nuclear deal’s dispute mechanism.
Lapid said the meeting with Macron was “long and positive,” calling the French president “a true friend of the State of Israel,” as well as a personal friend.
Macron asked Lapid about his political partnership with Gantz. Lapid said their relationship began before they even met, when his father, former justice minister Tommy Lapid, and Gantz’s mother were both deported to the Budapest Ghetto in 1944.
Gantz met with several other visiting leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein hosted a bipartisan delegation of seven members of the US House of Representatives, led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for a lunch meeting with Knesset members from across the political spectrum.
“I’m not sure Israel would be what it is if not for our close ties with the US,” Edelstein said. “Unfortunately, terrible antisemitism still exists and is rearing its head. But our friends in Congress do not only make declarations, they are taking steps to eradicate it.”
Edelstein, a former refusenik, recounted that Pelosi took part in protests for his release from the gulag.
Pelosi said it was an “unimaginable thrill” for her to meet with Edelstein, “speaker to speaker,” after having participated in demonstrations for his freedom.
She touted shared values between the US and Israel, adding that supporting Israel is in America’s national security interests.
“We’re not doing you a favor,” Pelosi said. “We are doing each other a collaboration.”
Iran is a danger to the entire world, not just Israel, she said.
Pelosi made a quip about US President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, saying: “The Senate is a little bit busy right now, or else we would have had some of them in our delegation.”
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili opened an honorary consulate in Jerusalem, with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and Diaspora Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who is of Georgian descent, present. The honorary consul will be Yigal Amedi, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem from the Likud Party.
Last year, Georgia began work toward opening a cultural center with diplomatic status in Jerusalem. But that effort is currently stalled.
Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem met with every foreign delegation arriving in Israel this week. A video of him running across the tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport from one leader’s plane to another’s made waves on social media.
Also drawing attention were photographs of Culture Minister Miri Regev meeting Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez on the tarmac as he landed. Regev had written his name in Hebrew letters on her hand, apparently to remember it.