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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