Haifa's relations with France and its institutions
By: Yaacov Bazak
Over the last two decades, the city of Haifa, Israel's northern capital, experienced a rapid and significant development that gained it reputation in Israel and throughout the world.
The reinvigoration of Haifa is multi-faceted, and includes the areas of transportation, tourism, economy, the high-tech and biotech industries, education and culture, healthcare, sports, beaches, city beautification and international connections. The latter include the ever-growing relations with France and its institutions, and the many resulting achievements.
It all began in 1962, when Haifa signed a twin cities alliance with the port city of Marseille. In the last two decades, the city expanded its circle of connections around France, and managed to establish contacts with other cities and institutions.
The French institutions that Haifa maintains connections with, apart from Marseilles, are the department of Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, Paris municipality, Lille municipality, and the municipality of Nice. State institutions include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, l'Élysée, the Senate and the House of Commons. The Jewish organizations the city collaborates with are Crif France, Crif Marseille-Provence, Consistoire France, Consistoire Marseille-Provence, and Consistoire Lille. Of crucial importance are also the relations with France Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Consulate and French Institute in Haifa, and the ongoing assistance from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Israeli Embassy in Paris and Israeli representatives of various institutions active in France.
The achievements accumulated so far are detailed here briefly, while others are currently being planned as part of a comprehensive plan for the future, and as a response to the reality of the present.
* The establishment of the French Cultural Center (Culturel Français Haïfa), named after the late Gaston Deferre, a man who was a great friend of Israel in General and Haifa in particular, Mayor of Marseille, Minister of State, Minister of Interior and Decentralization under President François Mitterrand.
The Center is located at the French Carmel neighborhood and is the acme of the blessed cooperation with the French institutions. President of the Senate at the time, Mr. Christian Poncelet, together with the management of the French Friends Association in Paris headed by Hugo Ramniceanu, and Haifa municipality, worked tirelessly and took action to implement the unique impressive project.
The complex includes the French Institute; the Press Association Club of Haifa and the North; a hall seating 500; a garden for outdoor events; and the recently added Dance Studio. It also serves as a home for the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, Bat Shir Choir and the Big Band Orchestra.
* Acquisition of equipment for enriching and enabling a proper operation of the Center, including a generator and a digital projection device, financial assistance for the renovation of the building's envelope and more.
* The municipality of Paris helped in planning and designing the Paris Square in downtown Haifa, and donated a fountain and double benches installed in the square to add grace and beauty; the municipality of Marseille donated another fountain, located on the grounds of the French Cultural Center.
* Bouches-du-Rhône district supported HaTikva School financially for 12 consecutive years, a plan that showed impressive results and benefitted thousands of students from disadvantaged families. Opening new classrooms for studies of the French language for six-graders, a program designed to encourage Francophonie in schools. Extensive activities to deepen the dialogue between the religions. Financial assistance in the purchase of emergency command vehicle, and training of firefighters from Haifa by the firefighting services of the Bouches-du-Rhône district.
* Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region gave financial support for the Provence Year events in Haifa, and for the Étonnants-Voyageurs Festival in Haifa.
* France's participation in the International Film Festival - the inclusion of French movies in the program; lectures by visitors from France; encounters with French intellectuals and philosophers.
* Reciprocal exchanges of exhibitions; student and youth exchange; Municipal, regional and professional delegations; the Fête de la Musique - France's national celebration, that was relocated a few years ago to the port campus, to allow a greater number of people to take part; cooperation with the supportive Jewish community in France, and many other events.
* Haifa received moral and financial aid from various French institutions following the three dire events visited upon the city in the last decade: the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the fires in the Carmel forest park in 2010, and the severe fires in 12 neighborhoods in 2016.
Of course, one can go on and detail the many other enterprises, but we are satisfied with this brief overview, as the scope and the results harvested during the years leave no doubt as to the great success of the strong ties that Haifa embroidered and highly appreciates with France and its institutions.