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Tel Aviv on the Seine Flushes Out the Slithery Creatures — Part 2

Ah ha ha, I’m chortling. Or maybe it’s better to imagine airy bell-like laughter, something silky and lacy. Ah ha ha, I’m laughing. The Big Bad Wolf said I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll… give an interview to a journalist. That was Gaza Beach today, a silly little flop. More journalists than BDSniks in their green Boycott Israel t-shirts. More riot policemen than petulant self-satisfied protestors in keffieh. The caliphators were not out in force.

Journalists cooling their heels at Gaza Beach.

But let’s begin at the beginning. Shortly before noon a parade of police cars passed by, sirens singing. That always electrifies the atmosphere. The cars took up positions around the Hôtel de Ville [city hall]. Dozens of CRS [riot police] were already in place, manning their stations. A long line of people waited patiently on the high road to go through the checkpoint and down the ramp to Tel Aviv on the Seine. Silent hecklers waited off to the side, making a fashion statement with their keffiehs and Gaza Beach Soccer t-shirts as if their presence were the eloquent expression of “international opinion.” Euro-Palestine in person [http://www.europalestine.com/] had informed loyal followers that permission to demonstrate had been granted on the grounds that they not try to mingle with the Tel Aviv beachgoers. So of course that’s why a dozen of them had to stand there like “do me something.”

A generous supply of press badges were waiting on a table. We signed up, got our badges, and took the fast track through baggage control. Then a short stretch under the bridge, with dozens of CRS lined up in the shadows next to the WCs, and here we are at the much maligned Tel Aviv on the Seine. We walk a bit further and come to the patch of sandy beach. Israeli music rings out, people are dancing, hips are gyrating, hands are clapping, the crowd is already dense. TV trucks look down from the bridge, cameramen are all over the place, microphones with logos are looking for something to record. One food truck (more about that later), an ice cream stand, and that’s it. A pittance.

Dancing at Tel Aviv on the Seine.

As if the whole thing had been nothing more than a stupid conversation! I may get more information in the coming days: was this the original plan, or was it scaled down in the face of fierce opposition (see Part 1)? Wasn’t there something about beach games and what not? I can’t even remember the details of what I’d read yesterday. Perhaps further on? We walked through a sort of covered passage. I spotted a keffieh-umbrella, some Palestinian flags. “I thought they weren’t supposed to mingle?” In fact, we were on Gaza Beach! Without warning. No signs to indicate we were entering the territory occupied by the “Palestinian” contingent. A handful of activists were activating. Stringing up their huge banner. Always that same self-satisfied look. Journalists standing around waiting for something to happen. We got into a conversation with a Mediterranean looking young woman brandishing a Radio France Internationale mike. Remarked that we had entered the sector by mistake. There was no checkpoint but now we discover we can’t go back to Tel Aviv, we have to go up the stairs to the upper quai, make a long detour, and pass through the checkpoint again. “You know why? It’s because there’s no fear of an incursion from the Tel Aviv side. But the same is not true of this side.” The fresh young raven-haired RFI journalist does not agree. “There’s just as much chance of an attack from that side as this side,” she says with a certainty that can only come from repeating what you are told and never thinking for yourself.

Gaza Beach right next to Tel Aviv.

The police can’t play around with that kind of nonsense. They protect from clear and present dangers. The bridge and the high road overlooking Gaza beach are open to the public. Bridges and the high road above the Zionist side were blocked… taking no chances on a wannabe Al Aqsa from which rocks might be cast down upon the festive crowd.

The weather has changed. After days and weeks of glorious sunshine that made Paris blossom like a woman in love, the sky was heavy today with thick white clouds. All the magic of Paris Plages had disappeared. I couldn’t believe I had found it so charming. Nothing but a dreary road along the river, with a few tables and chairs squeezed against damp dark stone walls. And that sort-of-a- beach where young and not so young were dancing and putting some heart into it.

The food truck? The one and only food truck where the hungry lined up forever? What was the connection between Tel Aviv and the three young women with ashram accessories running “Epices & love” [peace  & love, y’get it?]. The vegan craze? We sit on a narrow wooden bench chomping on a tasteless wrap filled with tasteless vegetables, that and nothing more. D. tells me what he saw in a kindergarten when he went into Gaza at the end of the ’67 war: nothing on the walls but big drawings of the different ways of killing Jews.

When we left the Seine at about 3 PM there was still a long line of people waiting to cross the checkpoint into Tel Aviv beach. E. and I decided to walk down toward Châtelet and check out Gaza on the Seine. As before, we had to cross to the far side of the street as we passed the Zionist stretch where the music was still going strong. Finally we could cross over and look straight down at the handful of BDSsers clustered around a haranguer telling them when the pharmacist offers a generic drug be sure to say no to TEVA. Hip hip hurrah, they holler, we don’t want TEVA. Then, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the leader of Euro-Palestine CAPJPO herself, Olivia Zemour who takes the mike. We voted for this Socialist mayor, she says, and now look what she’s done. She honors the apartheid State of Israel that massacres the people of Gaza! These politicians, after they get into office, they do whatever they please. Right or Left, it’s the same.

Did you hear that, monsieur Left? You curry their vote, bend over backward and worse, authorize their protests, twist the news to suit their views, and just when you think everybody is happy, you forget one day to absolutely totally and completely vilify Israel, and you’ve lost their vote.

Ah, but it doesn’t matter says O. Zemour, because our movement is constantly gaining ground [as testified by the half a dozen people drinking in her words] and Israel is more and more isolated… To listen to her, you’d think it was half way wiped off the map already.

A different kind of poster on the Tel Aviv side.

I walked down rue des Rosiers to get a breath of fresh air after all that pathetic spectacle. We don’t need the city hall to give us a stingy smidgeon of Tel Aviv. This is the real thing. People lined up at the falafel joints for some real food! Sweet wholesome perfume of fresh baked cakes and bread. An extra contingent of soldiers and police… in case, I suppose, an overflow from Gaza Beach might come storming in. But it wasn’t that crowd today. The caliphators are on vacation in their homelands, or weren’t mobilized for this event.

Prime time news on i24 this evening: French people on the real beach in the real Tel Aviv danced in front of the French embassy to show their solidarity with us over here. The rain started falling on Paris Plages at about 6 PM but nothing like the huge thunderstorm with hail and lightening that had been forecast. Another non sequitur.

It was all rather pitiful. The Mayor and her assistant holding out against vicious pressure while giving into it at the same time. The festive event falling short of reasonable expectations. Riot police, the gendarmerie, undercover agents, and domestic intelligence mobilized for a handful of agitators with big banners. Not enough troublemakers to spoil the party, not enough party to lift the spirits. No falafel, no sunshine.

And yet this whole affair was like a stumbling block that tripped up the long standing notion of the acceptable Israeli who has traded the blue & white Magen David flag for the universal rainbow of LGBT, decries the democratically elected government, detests the religious, the “colonists,” and the army, pleads guilty when accused, cries “peace” when pinched, and parties until dawn.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of  Checkpoint at the entrance to Tel Aviv sur Seine.

Tel Aviv on the Seine Flushes Out the Slithery Creatures — Part 1

It’s the 14th edition of Paris Plages, a charming operation that transforms the banks of the Seine, from the Quai du Louvre all the way to rue de Crimée, into a summer playground. From mid-July to mid-August the quais are dressed up as sandy “beaches” with deck chairs, picnic tables, fun & games, rental bikes for kids, restaurants, cafés, ice cream stands, a lending library, and—for want of a dip in the river—a stretch of cool-off mist. It’s all done in nice French taste with a pretty blue & white striped and bright yellow color scheme, t-shirted monitors, and an international crowd.

One day each summer a guest country is invited to bring an exotic accent to the Paris Plages river beach. Tomorrow, August 13th, it’s Tel Aviv sur la Seine and, don’t you know, the slithery creatures are climbing up the riverbanks, determined to strangle the very thought of Tel Aviv and the Israel that goes with it. From pseudo-intellectual analyses of the stalemate in the peace process, attributed exclusively to Israel, to ill-concealed threats to smash up the whole thing if the City Hall doesn’t cancel it, the “debate” spins around a few simplistic notions. Should Tel Aviv be coddled because it’s not really Israel, it’s more of a Levantine Paris on the Mediterranean, populated by peace-making leftist gay-friendly secular progressives who detest Netanyahu like we do, or should Tel Aviv be kicked off the river bank until it can be kicked out of the world, no less guilty than the last baby-burning Occupier on a West Bank hilltop whose army massacred all of Gaza one year ago.

The pathetic postman Olivier Besancenot, whose moribund anti-capitalist party [NPA] was revived last year by acting as straw man for Islamic protests against the Protective Border Operation, is ready to lead another rampage tomorrow. The Euro-Palestine site is in a state of volcanic anti-Zionist eruption. An anti-Tel Aviv petition boasts of 23,000 signatures. Riot police have been mobilized and no one knows how they will handle an ambulatory population of Zionists, non-Zionists, anti-Zionists, tourists, and caliphators moving along a narrow band between the river and the quais. To make things merrier, Euro-Palestine reports that the préfecture has authorized a mixed salad of Palestinian tifosi to hold a Gaza Beach demonstration on a stretch of the riverbank that runs from Châtelet, where the commuter trains roll in from the banlieue, and the Notre Dame bridge, where the Tel Aviv beach begins.

Resisting pressure from members of her governing coalition and beyond, the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, currently vacationing in her native Spain, stands by Tel Aviv…after a fashion. The idea of inviting Tel Aviv germinated, she says, during her visit to Israel last May. I was there when our mayor, smartly dressed in black set off with a raspberry red jacket, addressed the opening ceremony of the 5th Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism, organized in Jerusalem by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Speaking alternatively in French and English the mayor expressed her affection for Israel, its startups, its warmth, and vibrant energy. She was no less enthusiastic about French Jews, without whom France would not be France.

Indeed, that is the aim and purpose of domestic and foreign caliphators working to conquer, beyond a little stretch of riverbank, whole neighborhoods, the entire city, and turn the country into something that would not be France. The wedge of that operation is sic the Jews!

Nothing to do with antisemitism, perish the thought. Personally, I don’t ferret out antisemites, and I like to call people what they call themselves. So let’s see how and why they won’t let us enjoy a falafel on the river bank tomorrow. The general idea is that there’s something indecent about hosting Tel Aviv so soon after “an 18 month-old Palestinian baby was burned alive by Jewish extremists.” Not to mention last year’s massacres in Gaza.

Danielle Simonnet (Parti de Gauche), a member of the mayor’s coalition, denounces the “cynicism” of honoring “a festive Tel-Aviv… one year after the massacres in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli State and army while the government intensifies its policy of colonization …” Furthermore, she laments, there was nothing planned with “Israeli humanists,” no debate on the condition of the Palestinians! “Tel-Aviv is not Copacabana,” she blurted out in a radio interview. “Tel-Aviv is the capital of Israel!”

The mayor’s defense is curiously close to Simmonet’s attack. Tel-Aviv shouldn’t be confused with the State of Israel. The Paris Plages invitation is in no way a show of support for Benyamin Netanyahu’s conservative government. Tel Aviv is appreciated for its night life, it welcomes sexual minorities, it’s so progressive that all the intolerant people in Israel detest it! What’s more, the mayor congratulates Tel Aviv for the most impressive demonstrations of solidarity with the “Palestinian child burned alive by fanatics.”

Bruno Julliard, who worked his way up rather quickly from student rabble rouser to a major role on Mayor Hidalgo’s team, is more succinct: “There should be no confusion between the brutal policies of the Israeli government and the city of Tel-Aviv, whose residents and elected officials take a progressive stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

A few rare voices were heard from political figures on the right. Congratulating the mayor on her refusal to give in to pressure, Eric Ciotti [Les Républicains] is outraged by the controversy fueled by the far left “with anti-Semitic undercurrents.” Claude Goasguen, unfailing friend of  Israel, goes one giant step further, asking how Tel-Aviv, which is something more than a beach, can be distinguished  from the State of Israel. “I don’t think the residents of Tel-Aviv refused to defend their country when it was victim of Hamas rockets.”

Law enforcement, apparently, is far more concerned about the possibilities of uncontrollable violence like they had to deal with last summer, than with the geopolitical niceties of Tel Aviv as opposed to Israel, the colonies, and all that. An unidentified riot policeman admits that they are all thinking about the “antisemitic climate” that raged in Sarcelles in July of last year. While the police are stalking potential troublemakers on social media and with phone taps, elected officials, political cartoonists, militants, and commentators are stoking the flames. Or gently stirring them.

In a Libération op-ed, Alexandra Schwarzbrod cautions: As important as it is to denounce the Occupation and clamor for dismantlement of the colonies that deprive Palestinians of a future, it is just as important to refrain from stigmatizing everything Israeli. The reaction to the “premeditated destruction of a Palestinian family burned alive by what some in Israel call ‘Jewish jihadists’” is understandable. One might question the wisdom of the Mayor of Paris of inviting Tel Aviv a year after a war “between the Israeli army and the Palestinians of Hamas left Gaza in ruins.” But, she concludes, contact should be maintained with secular, open-minded Israelis “revolted by the occupation and the climate of intolerance that ravages their country.”

Socialist deputy Alexis Bachelay brought the debate to incandescence. Tel Aviv on the Seine, he tweeted, is tantamount to Pretoria on the Seine in the days of apartheid South Africa. Heating up from tweet to tweet, Bachelay opined that the South African apartheid regime was probably gentler than Israel’s Far Right government with its “separate development” in the form of the separation fence and the colonies. In a last attempt to clarify his statements, Bachelay explained that he was referring to last year’s Gaza conflict; a level of force never used by the “militarization of apartheid.”

The poor guy went too far. Fellow Socialist Jérôme Guedj awarded him a gold medal for the most idiotic tweet. I too congratulate him for displaying the crude inner pyrotechnics that are feeding this controversy and driving the anti-Zionists crazy. One thinks Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel, Bachelay knows the Israeli government is worse than apartheid South Africa, another pinches his nose over Netanyahu’s “brutal politics” and most of them hug Tel Aviv as if it were an annex to the Quartier Latin.

What will tomorrow bring? A standoff, a clash, or maybe a thunderstorm. A real one, the kind nature produces.

Next year they could invite Iran. There’s nothing controversial about Tehran’s unsullied beaches and they can work out the details when President Rohani will be the guest of President Hollande this November.