Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's short-notice trip to Paris caused controversy on more than one front on Sunday.
The prime minister flew to France to attend a mass rally in the French capital honoring the victims of French terror victims murdered in a series of attacks last week, four of which are Jews who were murdered in an attack on a kosher supermarket.
The French, Ynet has learned, were angry that the prime minister attended the rally with two senior ministers and an MK - while most countries only sent one senior official, and created difficulties for the Israeli delegation.
When the rally was first announced, Netanyahu's office issued a statement saying the prime minister would be unable to attend due to "security difficulties." But after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that he would represent Israel at the march, Netanyahu's office said the prime minister had changed his mind and would indeed attend.
Aside from Netanyahu and Lieberman, the march was attended by another senior official - Economy Minister Naftali Bennett - as well as former Shas MK Eli Yishai.
Furthermore, the French Foreign Ministry had preferred that Netanyahu was not present, as "his arrival could raise difficulties," Channel 2 television reported. The French media, meanwhile, reported that Netanyahu's arrival in the French capital could divert the spotlight from the fight against terror, and instead center attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also attended the rally, and the two leaders found themselves on the front row of the march, side by side with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European and Arab leaders.
The French were also said to be angry over comments by Netanyahu, Lieberman and other Jewish leaders encouraging French Jews to immigrate to Israel.
In Israel, Netanyahu also faced criticism from opposition politicians over the $177,000 cost of the flight to Paris. The prime minister flew to France with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for a one night stay, and the sum in question does not include the cost of accommodation for Netanyahu's security guards and staff.
To organize the short-notice trip, the Prime Minister's Office approached several airlines but the only one who had an available plane to fly Netanyahu and his entourage to the French capital was El Al. Part of the high cost of the flight is the fact the Boeing 737 used for the flight stayed in Paris for over 24 hours, so the costs of the plane's stay on the ground and the losses El Al suffers as a result of the plane's grounding were also calculated into the sum.
These costs also do not include the costs of Bennett and Yishai's flights, who arrived in Paris separately from Netanyahu and Lieberman.
Labor MK Mickey Rosenthal on Sunday branded the trip a waste of public money.
"Yesterday,we were told why the prime minister was giving up on the flight to Paris - the high security expenses. After Ministers Lieberman and Bennett decided to go, public money suddenly became less important, and Netanyahu also wanted to ride this wave of murderous terrorism," Rosenthal said.
Labor leader Isaac Herzog said that he and his running mate Tzipi Livni decided not to go to Paris themselves because of the "exaggerated" size of the delegation. He added that "Netanyahu's participation was appropriate in my opinion but the zigzag that pre-empted the decision was unnecessary and embarrassing."
The Prime Minister's Office said in response: "The procedure for flying the prime minister to diplomatic meetings abroad has not changed, and is identical to the procedure in the PMO in the past.
"Based on instructions from security officials, the prime minister flies abroad only with Israeli airlines. The communication with the airline is done by a government travel agency, which is part of the Finance Ministry. The PMO communicated to the travel agency the need for a Tel Aviv-Paris, Paris-Tel Aviv flight, according to procedure, and El Al was the company selected after Israir and Arkia said they did not have a plane available for the schedule."