French PM visits, lauds TAU
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls received TAU's George S. Wise Medal on Sunday, May 22, in an emotional ceremony in which he reaffirmed his admiration and support for Israel and specifically for Tel Aviv University.
“Israel and France have a deep, meaningful and multifaceted friendship,” Valls said in his acceptance speech. “The two countries build bridges through education, technology, social sciences … and share a commitment to scientific excellence and strong ties around the world based on economic collaboration, research and innovation.” Additionally, Valls said that France can learn a lot from Israel and TAU: its know-how, interdisciplinary study, cultivation of young entrepreneurs, and innovation.
The auditorium was overflowing with French dignitaries, members of the French Friends of TAU, media, and university governors and Friends. Also present were French students studying at TAU who met with Valls after the ceremony. The Prime Minister's visit to TAU was part of a diplomatic and trade mission which included political meetings with Israelis and Palestinians aimed at restarting peace talks.
French PM Manuel Valls meets with French students at TAU.
Valls expressed his satisfaction that dozens of French students "chose to spend a semester to benefit from the high level of education" at Tel Aviv University, which he termed an "incomparable" experience.
He invited everyone in the packed room to visit, study and work in France. "This is not just a fleeting invitation that I am making to be polite, but a real, sincere, concrete invitation."
The Prime Minister also thanked the French Friends Association and its President, Prof. François Heilbronn, for being "ambassadors for this warm friendship."
In conferring the George S. Wise Medal to Valls, TAU President Joseph Klafter and Board of Governors Chair Prof. Jacob A. Frenkel praised Valls for his committed friendship with Israel and France's Jewish community, especially at a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment are high.
Valls concluded his speech with a powerful statement: "It's France's duty, obligation, its soul to fight those who want to destroy democracy," he said, referring to Israeli democracy and those who call to boycott it. "How can we not condemn people who seek to break ties that unite us?...Is this what they call enlightenment?"
"The basis of the boycott is a hatred of Israel, a hatred for Jews having a home and ultimately a hatred of Jews."
His statements received vigorous applause from the audience and wide coverage in the Israeli and French media.