Tel Aviv day on Paris 'beach' stirs controversy

AFP , Monday 10 Aug 2015

The Paris Plages
The Paris Plages event on the banks of the Seine, July 20, 2015( Photo: reuters)

The decision to dedicate a day of beach festivities in Paris to Tel Aviv sparked condemnation on Monday, with leftist and pro-Palestinian groups saying it sends "a very bad message" of support for Israel's policies.

Every summer, the French capital turns the banks of the Seine into a makeshift beach known as Paris Plages and has this year devoted each day to a famous beach around the world.

Left-wing councillor Danielle Simonnet reacted angrily to the beach being named "Tel Aviv on the Seine" on August 13, after the Israeli coastal city.

"For the Israeli government, this is a nice bit of PR that Paris is serving up on a plate," Simonnet told France Inter radio.

"I fear it will go very badly and I think it sends a very bad message," she said.

Simonnet was supported by pro-Palestinian group CAPJPO-Europalestine, which called for protests if "this obscene event is not cancelled".

"It is out of the question to allow such an immoral event to go ahead in a public space," the group said in a statement, adding that it was "not about religion but about international law, human rights and human dignity."

Critics said the timing of the tribute to Tel Aviv was particularly ill-advised, coming after a Palestinian toddler burned to death in a July 31 arson attack in a West Bank village, suspected to be the work of Jewish extremists.

The child's father died at the weekend of his injuries.

Linking the attack to Israel's ongoing construction of settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state, Simonnet called for the beach event to be cancelled or reorganised into "a peace protest, in support of fraternity, in support of the fight against all forms of racism and anti-Semitism, and to back recognition of the Palestinian state."

A petition urging Paris authorities to axe the Tel Aviv day of the event had gathered more than 16,000 signatures by Monday evening.

But the mayor's office vowed it would not be swayed.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo's deputy Bruno Julliard said Israel's critics should distinguish between "the brutal politics of the Israeli government and Tel Aviv, a progressive city".

"We will not cancel this event because it would be to agree with radicals," he said. "We do not want to punish and population and cities that strive for peace."

Eytan Schwartz, foreign policy advisor to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, praised Hidalgo's "courage" in "rejecting pressure and attempts to have this event cancelled".

"We are delighted with our cooperation with the city of Paris, which stands by its friends," he told AFP.

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