EXCLUSIVE: Israel Mayor to French Boycotters: ‘Voila! You’ve Boosted Our Relations With Paris’ (INTERVIEW)
In an Israel boycotter’s nightmare, the mayor of the ancient northern Galilee city of Safed told The Algemeiner on Sunday that the punitive freezing of a twin-city pact with France’s fourth-largest city, Lille, has led to even better relations with Paris.
After Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, and despite a twinning agreement in effect since 1988, in October, the Lille City Council abruptly decided to freeze the accord, as a result of pressure by anti-Israel operatives who claimed that “Israel wasn’t doing enough to advance peace,” Ilan Shohat said.
A the time, “I protested the decision, pointing out that I saw the accord as a ‘bridge’ to better relations,” Shohat said, noting that, when the decision was taken, Safed and the Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus were part of a three-way agreement with Lille.
“Lille’s caving to the forces of extremism and its lack of leadership in seeing the big picture will lead to [the extremists] taking over all of France, and then it will be too late,” Shohat said at the time.
Roger Cukierman, the president of the Jewish umbrella group, CRIF, blasted Lille Mayor Martine Aubry, in a letter.
The “decision is tantamount to a heinous attitude towards the Israeli people because neither the twin city nor the Israeli people are responsible for the Israeli government’s policy,” Cukierman wrote of the move taken by Lille’s Municipality.
The vote, according to Greens Party member Marie-Pierre Bresson, is part of several “initiatives taken notably by the European Parliament to call for a freezing of the privileged agreements with Israel in order to pressure the government and accelerate the resolution of the conflict.” Aubry did not say when the freeze would be lifted.
“I was saddened that Aubry folded under pressure and decided to ‘follow the mob’ instead of cooperation and collaboration,” Shohat told The Algemeiner, adding that the frustration was shared “by a large swath of French Jewry.”
Shohat pointed to dozens of letters of support, and emphasized that a business delegation from Lille and Paris, including prominent French Jews, arrived two-weeks ago to seek ways to bolster identification with the 32,000-resident city, the birthplace of Jewish mysticism – Kaballah.
Unfortunately, the town also suffers from limited business opportunities, and Shohat was worried that Lille’s move would lessen the picturesque town’s international commercial, cultural and tourism ties.
“Last [week], the Paris Municipality passed a declaration of support and solidarity, calling for boosting cultural, business and tourism enterprises. While the gesture isn’t on the same level as ‘twinning’ – which can only be done with cities of equal rank, such as, say, Tel Aviv – it’s a very respectable move, which can only boost Safed’s standing,” Shohat explained.
Last Wednesday, “the deputy mayor [Patrick Klugman], speaking in the name of Mayor [Anne Hidalgo] informed me of the move,” Shohat said, adding that, “a working delegation of representatives is set to arrive by the end of the month, in order to learn about Safed first-hand.”
Collaborative ideas Shohat plans to pitch to the group include research and development projects with the city’s medical school, an annex of Bar-Ilan University in coastal Ramat Gan; Sieff Medical Center’s research into liver disease, and the city’s internationally-noted Jewish klezmer musical prowess.
“I’m happy to say that – thanks to the efforts of pro-Palestinian boycotters in Lille – Safed’s international relations have gone up a notch,” Shohat said.