Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Meet 'our' man in the French parliament

 Avi Assouly (Photo: Robert Poulain)

There can't be many members of the French parliament who have served in the IDF. Algerian-born Avi Assouly has also gone from professional soccer player and sports reporter to French politician in the National Assembly, where he is one of Israel's stauncher supporters. Israel Hayom reports:

Avi Assouly, 62, has an interesting life story. He was born in Algeria in June 1950. As a teenager he wanted to be a soccer player, but ended up as one of France’s best-known sports reporters. He also served in the Israel Defense Forces.

“In 1973, I went to Israel for the first time,” he recalls. “I was 23 years old. Before I went to Israel, I had worked at the court in Besancon, where my family immigrated when they left Algeria. I came to Israel on vacation. One day in July, I was playing soccer on a beach in Tel Aviv. Somebody saw me playing and asked me if I’d like to play on the Maccabi Tel Aviv team. I said, ‘Why not?’” Assouly chuckles at the memory, a childlike smile on his face.

As a result of this unexpected proposal, Assouly gave up his return ticket to France. Once he admitted that he had done a stint as a professional player in Besancon’s second league team (“Six players, that was all,” he says), he found himself at the Maccabi Tel Aviv training camp in Shefayim two weeks later. “The manager’s name was Leibovich (Haim ‘Leibo’ Leibovich),” he recalls.

“I worked in the cotton fields during the day, and in the evenings I trained with the Maccabi team players, mostly with the young people,” he recounts slowly. “Then, one day they brought me to play in a training match with the adult team. I was a far rightist and they liked me a lot,” he says.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973, Assouly’s adventure ended. “The people at the hotel told me to leave because Mr. Leibovich couldn’t support my staying any longer, and that was how my soccer career was cut short. I wanted to join the army, but they said no. So I found myself as a volunteer on a kibbutz in the north. I wanted to be near the border. I worked in the dairy and went back to France when the war was over.”

Q. In the end, you realized your dream to join the IDF.

“Yes. In 1984 I went back to Israel and volunteered. I still remember basic training at Training Base 4 and serving afterward on bases in the south. You can’t imagine how I felt when I got my Israeli passport,” he says.
When Avi returned to France in 1985, he found his niche – not in sports, or in writing about sports either. He describes his entry into politics as a coincidence. In January 2010, Michel Vauzelle, the president of the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur (PACA), where Marseille is located, asked Assouly to take on the sports portfolio for the district.

“Everybody in Marseille knows me and likes me – blacks, Jews, Arabs, whites and Africans,” he says. “I have no problem with anybody. And that was how I found myself an elected representative of the district.

“I told my wife I’d serve until 2015 and then retire,” he says with a smile. “But suddenly, in May 2012, a month before the National Assembly elections, Marie-Arlette Carlotti, a politician from the Socialist Party, asked me to replace her on the party list.

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