President Shimon Peres and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe dedicated on Thursday the new Ben Gurion Promenade in Paris, on the banks of the Seine and near the Eiffel Tower.
The festive dedication ceremony was attended by hundreds of people and Jewish community leaders. Mayor Delanoe said, “I am proud to present Ben Gurion Esplanade to the history of Israel and France. I am happy that a true friend of France, Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who worked alongside Ben Gurion, is honoring us with his presence.”
Peres was a close understudy of Israel’s first prime minister, Ben-Gurion, who appointed Peres as Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Defense in 1952, and a year later, its Director General. In the 1960s, Peres joined Ben Gurion in quitting the Mapai party and starting Rafi, which later rejoined Mapai to form the Alignment, a forerunner of today’s Labor Party.
Mayor Delanoe said that Ben-Gurion was the man responsible for the establishment of the State of Israel, and was the one who came up with the motto, “Better to have a small country living in peace, than a large country at war.” A source at the Ben Gurion Heritage Center in Sde Boker, where Ben Gurion lived out his last years, said he does not know of any such saying by Israel’s first prime minister.
Responding to criticism within France at the decision to name the plaza after the Israeli leader, Delanoe said, “I not only do not apologize for this decision, but I demand the privilege and honor of dedicating this promenade in his memory, and I am proud of the establishment and existence of the State of Israel. Those who accuse us today are doing so out of ignorance, because Ben Gurion was a man who fought for the establishment of the State but he was a devout pursuer of peace.”
The decision to grant the honor to Ben Gurion was made unanimously by the Paris City Council, the mayor said, “and Paris is proud of this decision. We are giving a message to the entire world of respect and freedom; when Paris puts great names like Ben Gurion on its map, this brings honor and greatness to Paris.”
President Peres said at the ceremony, “In the name of the State of Israel, I stand here very moved at the great honor you are giving the father of our State, David Ben Gurion. For us, France is not only a country, but a culture – and we are very grateful that right after the Holocaust, when our State had just been established, the French did not adhere to the embargo and sent us aid in the form of tanks and arms, and thus saved the State of Israel.”Peres had warm words for his mentor: “Ben Gurion was the head of a state that had not yet arisen. He dreamed of a land for a nation that was dispersed throughout the world, and he waged a war before we had an army. He sought peace and sought ethics for Israel, and this was his legacy.”