Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make an official visit to Paris next week at the invitation of French President Francois Hollande, his office confirmed.
The trip, which will be the first for the premier since the election of the new Socialist President in France in May, will feature a meeting with French President Francois Hollande, as well as a memorial ceremony for the four victims of a shooting in March at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse.
The visit comes at an increasingly anxious time for French Jews, in the midst of a spate of anti-Semitic attacks which has concerned Israel. Earlier this month, police arrested twelve suspects as part of a weekend swoop on a suspected Islamist terror cell believed to have plotted attacks against Jewish targets in France, seven of whom went on to be formally charged.
Announcing charges of attempted murder and terrorism against seven out of 12 suspects arrested over the weekend, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said they had been part of an active terror cell that was "probably the most dangerous in France since 1996."
The group had been plotting to mount attacks in France and to join up with other "jihadists" in Syria and elsewhere, Molins said. The profile of the suspects in custody was "much more dangerous than we initially assumed", he added.
"We have been able to avoid a terrorist attack in our country," Molins said.
Subsequently, Hollande vowed to track down and destroy Islamist radical cells operating inside the country. "We will go after them and we will eliminate them," he told French broadcasters.
In June, an Israeli Knesset committee convened a meeting with the French ambassador on Wednesday to express concern over a perceived sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in France. The Immigration, Absorption & Diaspora Affairs Committee Chairman, Likud MK Danny Danon, called the meeting with Ambassador Christophe Bigot to seek explanation for new figures, compiled based on data from the Paris-based Protection of the Jewish Community (SPCJ) and the French Interior Ministry, showing an increase of 53% in anti-Semitic acts during the first five months of 2012 compared to last year.
Responding to allegations the Toulouse shooting by French-Algerian al Qaeda sympathiser Mohamed Merah had sparked a torrent of revived anti-Semitic sentiment in France, Bigot said: “The new government in France is determined to react to this phenomenon and has already increased protection of synagogues and Jewish schools.”
Highlighting the €500,000 his government, under the leadership of recent-elected Socialist President Francois Hollande, has committed to securing community institutions for its some 600,000-strong Jewish population, Bigot invoked the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s labelling of France as a “success story” in the fight against anti-Semitism, echoing Hollande’s commitment to fighting anti-Jewish acts in the run-up to the French presidential elections last month:
“We’re very proud of our Jewish identity and Jewish history and we do consider these anti-Semitic attacks are an attack on our history, our people, and our values, values we share with you,” the ambassador insisted.
Danon, however, slammed what he called the “meteoric” rise in recorded anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of this year, cautioning the French statesman: “You are responsible for quashing anti-Semitism in your country. Don’t let violence against Jews rear its head – stop anti-Semitism before it’s too late.”
The Jewish Agency in Israel meanwhile confirmed that recent attacks on the Jewish community in France had not sparked an epidemic of emigration to the Jewish State:
“From January until April, we had about 500 immigrants, which is no change at all from last year’s figures,” said the agency’s overseer of Jewish immigration to Israel from Europe . “The Jews of France did not hysterically call the Jewish Agency after Toulouse. Aliyah from France is not an an aliyah of rescue, but one of choice. People come here because they want to live in Israel.”
Also expected to feature high on the agenda for the meeting between the Israeli and French politician is the stalled Middle East peace process, with Hollande having already met twice with Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas since assuming office earlier this year.
They are also likely to discuss ongoing concerns over the Iranian nuclear threat, after Netanyahu responded positively to the EU foreign affairs council’s decision to inflict more stringent sanctions on the Islamic Republic last week.
In a telephone call last month, Hollande urged Netanyahu to favour diplomacy over military action on the Iranian issue. The Israeli Prime Minister has repeatedly driven home the need to draw a "clear red line" for Iran and make clear the consequences of crossing it.
France however has taken an increasingly hard line on the regime, as part of the international negotiating team. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius appeared to confirm Israel’s fears Iran has proceeded with diplomatic talks in order to buy time to forge ahead with its nuclear programme, when he told a French radio station Sunday that experts “have established in an absolutely indisputable way” that Iran has compiled a full array of centrifuges that “apparently will allow the ability to go toward possession of the nuclear weapon by the first half of next year, the end of the first half.”