‘Tel Aviv on the Seine’ sparks controversy in France

Critics say decision to celebrate Israeli city at Parisian event is just “bitter PR operation” and ignores Gaza assault.

Tel Aviv on the Seine'' sparks controversy in France
A petition asking for the cancellation of the event has collected 22,000 signatures [EPA]

A decision to celebrate the Israeli city of Tel Aviv as part of a beach event is dividing French citizens, journalists and politicians.

The yearly event called “Paris Plages” or Paris Beaches, hosted by the City Hall, transforms the borders of the Seine River into a sandy and festive beach for people who cannot afford to go on holidays. It has existed for 13 years without any trouble.

But this year, controversy arose after the newly elected mayor, Anne Hidalgo of the ruling Socialist Party, decided to invite several seaside cities of the world to join the Parisian event.

After Athens and coastal cities of Brazil were honoured, it is the turn of the economic capital of Israel, Tel Aviv, to be invited on Thursday, for an event called “Tel Aviv Sur Seine” or literally “Tel Aviv on the Seine”. 

The project idea stems from a meeting between the two cities last May during an official visit of Hidalgo to Israel and the Palestinian territories and is described as “a festive and cultural day” to make people “discover the culture, gastronomy and hobbies” of the second biggest city of Israel.

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But the event has sparked anger within the City Hall itself.

Danielle Simonnet, a City Hall councillor from the Left Party, denounced “the indecency of such an event, one year after the massacres on the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army” referring to last summer’s Israeli assault that killed 2,200 civilians including 500 children.

And the France Palestine Solidarite association qualified the event as a “bitter PR operation” for Israel.

Protests planned

On social media, the controversy was inflamed this week by the attack of Israeli settlers on a Palestinian family killing a toddler and his father.

Now, a petition asking for the cancellation of the event has collected 22,000 signatures.

Protests are also planned by several pro-Palestinian organisations and groups campaigning against racism and Islamophobia.

The protests will be held on the bank of the Seine, facing the event, on Thursday afternoon.

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Reacting to the criticism, City Hall has reaffirmed that the event will take place.

Bruno Julliard, deputy Paris mayor, said on Twitter: “No conflation between Tel Aviv, a city that’s a symbol of tolerance and peace and the brutal politics of the Israeli government.”

And Hidalgo wrote an article in Le Monde newspaper, explaining that she was welcoming Tel Aviv because it is a city “open to all minorities, sexual ones, it is creative, inclusive, in a word, progressive, hated for that reason in Israel by all intolerants”. 

About 300 police and military staff will be deployed to secure the event – which led Julien Salingue, a member of the New Anticapitalist Party and researcher on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to say: “Parisians will be able to discover how Israel is like. They will see harsh police and military covering.”

Salingue disagreed with those saying Israeli politics and the celebration of the city of Tel Aviv can be separated, saying “culture is politics”.

“For Israel, culture is a weapon to clear its politics and make it look nice abroad. And the Israeli ministry of defence is in Tel Aviv so please let’s be serious and not only think about it as a party town,” he told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera