The shootings in Paris, at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in a kosher supermarket, have naturally started far-reaching debates about freedom of expression, the boundary between satirical comment and hate speech, and the place of Islam in European society. These questions deserve serious attention, and I would rather say nothing about them than produce a glib self-serving soundbite in response. It’s difficult, though, to resist commenting on the behaviour of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who invited himself to the massive demonstration in Paris that followed the attacks.
Ha’aretz reports that the French Prime Minister François Hollande asked both Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to attend, so that the event would focus on solidarity with the citizens of France rather than importing the Middle East conflict. Both agreed, but Netanyahu changed his mind when he heard that two of his rivals in the government coalition intended to go. With elections in Israel less than two months away, no-one can afford to miss a grandstanding opportunity like that; true, nearly twenty people died, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, right? Netanyahu pushed into to the front line of dignitaries and marched, waving and beaming to the people on the balconies along the way.
For the French authorities, desperate both to reassure Jews that they have a safe future in France and to manage the threat of radicalisation without alienating all French Muslims, nothing could have been less welcome than Netanyahu’s lectures on how to fight “Islamic terror”—the Israeli way, of course, with extreme repression—coupled with the message to France’s Jews that they will never be safe anyway unless they come to Israel. It is curious that no-one ever seems to notice the contradiction in the calls to make aliyah: while we are being told never to give in to terrorism, whose aim is primarily to terrify us, we are simultaneously being told to give in to terror and flee for safety.
But this kind of reasoning is irrelevant outside the real context of Netanyahu’s comments. Right now, his only concern is to make headline material for HaYom, the Israeli freesheet owned by his American billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson. We can expect more stunts like this—including military provocations—in the next two months and the closer the polls run, the more desperate will be the search for favourable publicity.