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Israeli and French leaders commemorate deportation

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris yesterday for a ceremony commemorating 75 years since the Vél’ d’Hiv Roundup (Rafle du Vél' d'Hiv in French)

Over 13,000 Jews were rounded up by French police on July 16 and 17, 1942 in Paris and transported to Auschwitz. The incident is named after the Vélodrome d'Hiver stadium, an indoor cycling track where the victims were temporarily held before deportation.

"Antisemitism did not die with Vichy," Mr Macron said. He acknowledged French responsibility for the incident. "It is indeed France that organised" the roundup. "Not a single German" took part, he said.

76,000 Jews in total were deported in France. Many rescue efforts were attempted by the French Resistance in occupied territories.

One survivor of the Vél d’Hiv roundup told The Jerusalem Post that many in his village knew that he was Jewish, but no one spoke about it.

After Poland and the Netherlands, France has the highest number of people with the title of ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, an honour given by Israel to non-Jews who helped Jews escape persecution during the Holocaust.

The priest Père Marie-Benoît was one of the most prominent of the Righteous Among the Nations. He rescued 4000 Jews from Marseilles, helping them cross from Nice into the Italian zone.

It is the first time an Israeli leader has attended the ceremony, and Mr Netanyahu called Mr Macron’s invitation a "very, very strong gesture".

But Mr Netanyahu’s presence sparked controversy. The Union of French Jews for Peace (UJFP) called the invitation "shocking" and "unacceptable", and accused the Israeli government of "usurping the memory of the victims of Nazism to make people believe that Israel represents all the world's Jews".

The former Israeli ambassador to France, Elie Barnavi, also criticised Mr Netanyahu’s presence. Mr Barnavi is active in the Middle East peace process. “This story has nothing to do with Israel," he said.

Jacques Chirac was the first president to accept France’s role in the roundup and to pay homage in 1995.

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