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Controversy swells at Paris' "Tel Aviv beach" on Seine

People relax as "Paris Plages" (Paris Beach) opens along the banks of River Seine in Paris, France, July 20, 2015.
People relax as "Paris Plages" (Paris Beach) opens along the banks of River Seine in Paris, France, July 20, 2015. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

An event by Paris municipality to honour Tel Aviv by transforming the capital's river bank into the vibrant beaches of Israel's second largest city, has sparked outrage. Palestine solidarity activists and Left-leaning politicians have slammed the "indecency" of the event, scheduled for August 13.

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"We refuse any parallels between the brutal colonisation policy of Israel and the city of Tel Aviv, which is a progressist city and a symbol of tolerance," Paris' First Deputy Mayor Bruno Julliard said defensively on Sunday.

Faced with mounting criticism at a "Tel Aviv beach" being set up at this year's Paris Plages- a simulated beach the city sets up every summer- Julliard was forced to defend the municipality's choice.

"We will not let an entire population be punished for its government's colonialist policy," he insisted.

But there have been numerous calls for the promotional event to be cancelled. Local councillor Danielle Simmonet of the Left-wing Parti de Gauche, has hit out at what she calls blatant "indecency."

"Just one year after the massacre in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army, and even as the Israeli government intensifies its policy of settlement construction… Paris City Hall dares to organize 'within the framework of its cultural partnerships with the world's largest cities' a day honoring Tel Aviv," Simonnet complained on her web site.

There have been numerous reactions on Twitter-where the event is being promoted- most of them bordering on anti-Semitism. The #TelAvivSurSeine hashtag was of the most popular on French social media on Saturday.

"Those who refuse this partnership are the same ones who call for a boycott of Israeli products," Julliard further explained.

BDS activists are worried that the event will embellish Israel's image at a time where the country is facing down criticism over the arson attack of an 18-month old baby by Jewish settlers.

But Paris argues the project was conceived last May during a visit by mayor Anne Hidalgo to Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Paris says it's planning to also pursue “partnerships with Bethlehem,” in the occupied West Bank, “in the field of water management,” to show its solidarity with both sides.

Paris Plages has been running every summer for the past 13 years, during which the banks of the Seine are turned into sandy beaches for the benefit of the Parisians who stay in town during the annual holidays and the tourists who pack the city.

The Tel Aviv on Seine event scheduled for August 13, which will be complete with falafel stands and “Israeli nightlife,” is perhaps however the most controversial.

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