image Photo: Kobi Gideon (GPO)

Herzog on state visit to France

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also attended a memorial ceremony marking one decade since the Toulouse and Montauban terror attacks.

By Erin Viner

The Israeli President and First Lady Michal Herzog are meeting with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and her husband, Jean-Marc Germain today. The also also holding talks with leaders of the French Jewish community at the Hotel Raphael in the French capital, in a gathering also attended by representatives of Israeli organizations and Israeli Ambassador to France Yael German.

The Israeli leader began his visit to the Republic yesterday morning with a diplomatic working meeting with President Emmanuel Macron for discussion on close bilateral ties as well as current regional challenges.

President Herzog thanked his French counterpart for the warm welcome and stressed the importance of this significant visit to commemorate ten years since the “terrible terror attacks” in Toulouse and Montauban, said a statement from his office.

7 people including a rabbi and three children were murdered and five wounded during three separate shooting attacks against French soldiers and Jewish civilians committed by Islamist terrorist Mohammad Merah in the two Midi-Pyrénées cities 11-19 March 2012. The spree ended when the 23-year-old assailant, a French national of Algerian descent who had sworn allegiance to the al Qaeda terror group, was killed after a standoff with police on 22 March 2022.

Yesterday, the Israeli President and First Lady Michal Herzog visit the Ohr Torah Jewish school in Toulouse with President Macron and his wife Brigitte, where Merah shot down Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arié and Gabriel, and Myriam Monsonego.

After laying a wreath at the monument commemorating the victims and observing a minute’s silence, the leaders and their wives met teachers and students who were present at the school at the time of the 2012 attack.

Later, together with former French Presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, President Herzog and the First Lady joined the Macrons in meeting school principal Yaacov Monsonego and his wife Yaffa, who lost their eight-year-old daughter Myriam in the massacre.

The Presidents offered comfort to the families while hearing about their heavy losses, challenges that have accompanied them over the past decade, and the strengthening of the Jewish community of Toulouse in the wake of the terrorist attack.

In addition to the two heads of state, Jewish community leaders, heads of Jewish organizations in France, the former French Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande, former French premiers, local leaders, and Jewish community representatives also participated in a memorial for the victims.

The texts of both the Israeli and French Presidents are published below.

Main points from President Isaac Herzog’s speech:

Today, we mark ten years since the terrible day of the murder, here in Toulouse, of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arié and Gabriel, and the little girl Myrian Monsonego. I shall never forget their funeral procession when they were laid to rest in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish People, from which I came here today with my wife Michal.

Brothers and sisters, we stand here today in order to say clearly: terror will not defeat us. Our mutual responsibility, our spirit, and our glorious heritage—these, no one can suppress.

Anyone searching for a justification for hatred must know that hatred has no reason. There is no justification for the murder of innocent children in Toulouse; there is not, and there will never be, any reason or justification for acts of terror, wherever they may be perpetrated. This is pure and bottomless hatred, motivated by an extremist and distorted version of Islam, which never misses an opportunity to attack Jews, and as we have seen, unfortunately, also Muslims and Christians.

Even today, we hear about anti-Semitic incidents around the world and witness unimaginable hatred on social media. We must keep working at the political, judicial, and educational levels; we must clearly and vocally condemn racism and anti-Semitism; we must fight it without compromise.

The adoption of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism is an important step by the Government of France to fight anti-Semitism, and I want to express my gratitude. I also want to thank you for the major effort by the Government of France and security authorities in recent years to safeguard the security of Jewish communities.

The forms of anti-Semitism include expressions and acts of hatred toward the state of the Jews, the State of Israel, and of a desire to annihilate it. Iran is the main driver of this agenda. It feeds it, foments it, and enflames anti-Semitism. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are a central actor in the spread of terror and hate.

The family of nations must stand together and not let Iran pour more fuel on the flames of hatred—before it is too late. The State of Israel will not accept any attempt to dispute or threaten our basic right to exist, as a nation in our homeland. I thank you, Mr. President, for your support and for the fact that France stands with Israel on this matter.

We gather here at a time when Europe’s skies have been blackened by artillery smoke and the lives of millions are being destroyed, as they flee from their homes. The sight of this unimaginable human suffering, and of the flourishing cities that have become ravaged warzones, is heartbreaking.

I commend the efforts of the European leadership and your own important efforts, President Macron, and I greatly appreciate them. The State of Israel is making every effort to bring about the end of the destruction, the ruin, the tears, and the unjustifiable and futile loss of life. We are working, with all our means, to extend humanitarian aid to those whose world has collapsed. From here, I pray that this tragedy will end and that we may swiftly merit days full of hope.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks:

“I want to thank you, Mr. President, dear Isaac, for having accepted my invitation to be here together with your wife at our side. This is your first official visit in France, and your presence was at once obvious and an honor. We were there together to say to those who were attacked by barbarity that we support them. But we were also there to remind everyone together that France and Israel, Israel and France, are determined together to defeat terrorism in all its forms and on every front. And that together, we are determined to eliminate anti-Semitism, including when it hides behind the mask of anti-Zionism.

“In turn, therefore, Mr. President, I want to salute your role, your involvement for peace in the whole region, the courage you displayed in going places where it seemed impossible you might go. And your commitment, the commitment of your prime minister and your government in the name of peace, in the face of the war that Russia launched in Ukraine, in pursuit of mediation. And I want to tell you that France, as it has always done, will remain a stabilizing force for peace in the region—and peace will never come at the expense of the security of the State of Israel.”