Tuesday, August 15, 2006


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'We have a debt to Israel'
By Goel Pinto
He is a refugee from the north and since the start of the bombing has been staying with his sister at a relative's in Ra'anana. Debora is a tourist from Marseilles, whose parents were not deterred by the war and came to Israel with their three children. Debora giggles with her friends, consulting as to whether she should keep talking to Bar. Finally she decides to pass, kisses him on the cheek and says in French: "I'll see you inside." Bar does not understand, strokes his cheek and smiles to his friends in triumph. But it seems the refugee and the tourist will never meet again, because the bouncers refused to let Bar into the club on account of his age. Tel Aviv is full of such encounters these days. One could say that French is the prevalent language heard today on the beaches, in coffee shops and in Tel Aviv stores - closely followed by Hebrew. According to the Tourism Ministry, French Jews have been Israel's most loyal tourists in past years. Close to two million tourists visited here in 2005, and 310,000 of them came from France. The last six months show a similar trend: Out of a million tourists who visited Israel, 120,000 came from France. Last month the French went on their summer holiday, and since then 40,000 tourists arrived in Israel.
Further information: According to an article published two days ago in TheMarker, 87 percent of the rooms in the Holiday Inn Crown Plaza hotel are occupied by French tourists; 50 percent of the rooms in the Tel Aviv Hilton are taken by French tourists, and 54 percent in the Tel Aviv Dan Hotel. Supporting IsraelWhy are they coming? And why in such troubled times? Gerard Almakeis decided to move up his vacation - originally planned for September - to come to Israel. His foreman at a large Internet service company was far from pleased, but Almakeis felt it was important to show his support, especially given the attitude of French politicians towards Israel. "When I saw our prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, on TV landing in Beirut to show his support for the Lebanese, I immediately booked an earlier flight to Israel. The French politicians are always supporting the Arabs and opposing Israel, and I have to show the State of Israel that I support it." Professor Joseph Ohnona, a psychiatrist who lives and works in Paris and is vacationing these days in Israel, thinks along the same lines. "We might be on a short vacation to Israel, but French politicians are always on vacation with regard to Israel. French Jews are constantly disappointed by the French government's position, which always supports the Arabs. We, the Jews, have a moral debt to the State of Israel, and not coming here when it is in war with its enemies, is similar to not repaying the debt." The Jewish community in France numbers 600,000 people, and contrary to many other communities - and despite its upper-middle class economic status and assimilation into French society - it always openly defines itself as Jewish. Oren Drori, head of marketing in the Tourism Ministry, says, "The French Jews live as a Jewish community within France." This is credited, to a large extent, to Jewish organizations such as the CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions) or Hakala Le'ami, which help those who want to immigrate to Israel. "In Britain, for instance, there is no dominant Jewish umbrella body," adds Drori. Who is more Zionist?France's chief rabbi Josef Sitruk is among those who influence the French Jewish community. "As soon as Rabbi Sitruk decided in 2003 that the annual conference of French Jewry would be held in Israel, everyone accepted," says Albert Ben-Abu, head of the Paris Tourism Board. "In France, we have five Jewish radio stations, and they all compete over which is more Zionist." Drori explains the French Jewish loyalty. "You can hang their loyalty on the anti-Semitism in France," he says. "Another reason is many of the tourists, certainly more than those who come from the United States, have relatives and friends living in Israel. In addition, many tourist destinations that are usually relevant to them, such as the North African countries from which they originate, are dangerous for Jews since the second intifada broke out, and Israel is their natural choice." According to Professor Ohnona, every French Jew asks himself: Are we Jewish French, or French Jews? The repeating clashes between French politicians and Israel, he says, put the Jews living there in constant doubt. "We are in a state of schizophrenia", he says. "Is our government right, or is yours?" The only place for JewsAs far as it concerns Dr. Michele Nomber, author of the autobiographical "Quand J'etais Goy" (When I Was a Goy), the answer is clear: Israel is the only place for Jews in the world. Like Ohnona, he is also a psychiatrist who works in France. But as opposed to Ohnona, he owns an apartment in Israel. "We purchased the apartment in 2001, at the height of the intifada," he says. "We had only one reason: We wanted to inject money into the Israeli economy during its hardest period. Since owning the apartment, we come to Israel a lot, but today I can say that we came because of the war. France has Jews of European descent, and Jews of African descent. Jews who experienced the Holocaust and Jews who experienced the Arab hatred. We know what it's like to live with anti-Semitism, and we know that the only real solution is to come live in Israel. People in their fifties can't make aliyah and start over, but we still suffer from the rising Muslim power in France and the changing French demography, which works against us, and for this reason we have to show solidarity with Israel."


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