PARIS — Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu received an emotional welcome on Monday from French Jews gathered outside the kosher market where four were killed in a siege last week.
Netanyahu visited the Hyper Cacher market in eastern Paris early Monday afternoon, three days after the attack, and was greeted by a crowd of people, some waving or wrapped in Israeli flags. The crowd, standing behind security barriers, chanted "Am Yisrael Chai" ("The nation of Israel lives") and "Shalom Aleichem" ("Peace be with you"), as well as "La Marseillaise," France's national anthem, several times. They also chanted Netanyahu's nickname, Bibi, over and over.
Netanyahu has been criticized by some in Israel for his trip to Paris, where he appeared with world leaders at a unity rally Sunday and spoke at the Grand Synagogue of Paris that evening with French President François Hollande. Hollande had reportedly asked Netanyahu not to come to Paris, over concerns his presence would divert attention from the unity rally. The French were also concerned, Haaretz reported, that Netanyahu — who faces a snap election in March — would use the visit as a campaign event. The French were reportedly peeved that the Israeli entourage was so large.
But his reception among the Jews gathered outside the kosher market was largely positive on Monday, with several people at the scene telling BuzzFeed News that they were moved by Netanyahu's appearance at the site of the tragedy.
"It's a symbol," said Carine Elbaze, of Paris. "For me, he represents all the Jews of the entire world. All the Jews, whether in France or elsewhere, he represents the country of Israel and Israel equals Jews."
"I'm thinking about [moving to Israel]," Elbaze said. Over the weekend, Netanyahu essentially invited French Jews to leave France and live in Israel, saying on Twitter, "To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe,Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home."
"To see Netanyahu, it's simply his presence that combats terrorism around the world, that combats more precisely terrorism against Israel, and for us terrorism here and terrorism in Israel is the same, and that's why we support Netanyahu," said a 19-year-old bystander who said his name was Yohan Cohen (the same name as one of the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack). "Like many of my friends, I'm considering moving to Israel."
Patricia Zarca, a resident of Paris who works in real estate, said, "We're happy to be supported [by Netanyahu], because we're French and today we feel attacked as targets for being Jews. So we're happy to know that just in case, we'll have a place to go."
"He's a good prime minister," said Albert Pinto, a retiree. But Pinto said he didn't have any intention of moving to Israel. "Anybody can do what they want, but those who go to Israel, six months later they end up moving back. There's no work."
A woman standing nearby interjected, "You're saying nonsense."
Like Pinto, Mauricette Aboucaya, another retiree, said she would "never" leave France.
"I want to live in France and die in my country, which is called France," Aboucaya said.
But she, too, was grateful for Netanyahu's presence.
"He's already done his duty, and it's wonderful what he's done," she said. "We're very sensitive to his coming here."