Herzl Square unveiled in Paris

PARIS (EJP)— The opening of a square in the French capital named after the founder of Zionism has been welcomed by the city’s mayor.

Speaking at the inauguration of Herzl Square on Wednsday, Bertrand Delanoe called the event “a clear stand showing our attachment for Israel.”

The junction was dedicated to Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodore Herzl who founded the Zionist movement at the first Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 and worked tirelessly for the creation of the Jewish state until his death in 1904.

However Herzl didn’t live to see the Jewish state since he died at the age of 44, precisely 44 years before Israel was created.

“Theodore Herzl, Journalist and writer, Instigator of the Jewish national home” say the two street plates on the square between Reaumur and Turbigo streets in the third arrondissement of Paris.

Happy celebration

Speaking at the event, Delanoe told those present: “Naming a square after Herzl is not meaningless, It’s a clear stand showing our attachment for Israel.”

Stressing his support, he added: “My opinion has remained unchanged in decades, but as mayor I engage Paris in this stand. There are few places named after Herzl, there is one in Vienna where he lived, and I’m honoured by the fact that Paris is the only other city in Europe, to my knowledge, where a square is named after Theodore Herzl.”

Hundreds of Parisians, mostly Jewish, attended the unveiling in a joyful atmosphere, applauded Delanoe and took pictures in front of the plates with an Israeli flag.

“I brought this flag because I want us to act like any other nation. I think we can wave the Israeli flag just as the Portuguese can wave theirs here in Paris,” explained one young Jewish man named Charles.

As he lent his flag to people to take photos with, Charles added: “Anti-Semitism was always there and it will probably carry-on existing, but we shouldn’t give in and avoid waving our flag.”

Parisian connection

In his speech Delanoe noted the strong effect that Paris had on Herzl’s battle.

It was in Paris, while reporting on the Dreyfus affair, a Jewish French military captain was falsely convicted of espionage, where that Herzl realised the strength of anti-Semitism.

The Viennese reporter covered the trial in which Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of betraying France in favour of Germany and witnessed how Captain Dreyfus was degraded by the army.

The Dreyfus affair made Herzl aware of the situation in Europe. He later wrote his book Der Judenstaat, ‘the State of the Jews’ and devoted his life to the creation of the Jewish state.

“Jews can live outside of Israel but they cannot live without Israel,” said the mayor of Paris who added that this did not exclude a similar attachment to the Palestinian cause.

Strong security

Dozens of police cars deployed around the new Herzl square and filtered entrances to avoid confrontation with anti-Zionists but no protesters showed up at the scene.

A pro-Palestinian gathering was organised at the other end of Paris, on the Champs Elysees Avenue, but demonstrators didn’t mention the unveiling and focused their attacks on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, French President Jacques Chirac Jacques Chirac, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

“For once we’re gathered for a happy event so we shouldn’t hesitate to be joyous,” said Regine Lippe, a member of the Sons and daughters of the deported Jews of France Association (Association des fils et filles des déportés juifs de France).

Some participants regretted that the word Zionism wasn’t inscribed on the street plate.

“Zionism has become a dangerous word,” said 35-year-old Sevrine “They wanted to avoid protest.”

“I don’t agree,” said deputy mayor of the 20th arrondissement, Jean-Michel Rosenfeld, “the words on the plaque: ‘Theodore Herzl, instigator of the Jewish nation’ describe Herzl exactly as he was. Herzl was described only years later as the founder of Zionism.”