As world leaders and millions of French marchers gathered for what became France’s largest rally in the country’s history following a series of terror attacks in the capital, some in the United States criticized the Obama administration and members of Congress for their absence at the massive event.
More that 70 foreign delegates were slated to attend the Unity rally in Paris, including 44 heads of state, according to French station BFM. Leaders from UK, Germany, Jordan, Israel, and Palestinian authority marched with arms locked at the event along with defense ministers in a crowd of millions. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was set to represent the U.S., was nowhere to be seen.
The White House quickly put out a statement that Holder’s schedule, which included interviews with four of America’s five major Sunday news shows, did not allow him to participate. The whereabouts of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were also questioned.
Holder in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday vowed America’s cooperation against terrorists who “use a corrupted version of Islam to justify their actions.”
Jane Hartley, the American Ambassador to France, represented the United States. But that wasn’t enough – even some committed democrats who expressed disappointment. Aaron David Milller, who served for years as a lead peace negotiator with the state department tweeted: “Not an excuse in universe can explain why US failed to send to Paris a more visible rep. than Holder. MIAs BHO/Mrs BHO/Kerry/Biden”
Several people on social media called the lack of American leadership “embarrassing;” one Tweet received more than 100 retweets. Monday’s New York Daily News cover story expressed shame for its country in its decision to not send top U.S. officials to the rally, with a glaring headline: “You let the world down.”
French President Hollande reportedly asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend not to attend the march in Paris, according to an Israeli source in a Haaretz report. Both ultimately attended.
Related: France, US pledge war against terror
After three masked gunmen killed 12 people last week in Paris at the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that had published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Obama offered his support and help to French officials. “The one thing that I’m very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people,” Obama said last week.
France has been reeling from days of deadly attacks. Following the ambush at Charlie Hebdo last Wednesday, a series of follow-up attacks ensued, which have all been confirmed as linked. A gunman killed four Jewish people during a hostage standoff at a kosher grocery store last Friday, and two brothers implicated in the Charlie Hebdo attack, Cherif and Said Kouachi, took a hostage at a printing facility. French commandos killed all three attackers in simultaneous raids. Authorities believe Coulibaly was behind an earlier shooting the same week targeting a 32-year old female jogger, who was wounded in the attack. French police are still searching for a suspected female accomplice, 26-year-old Hayat Boummeddiene. An 18-year-old gunman from the initial attack turned himself him.
“It is a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a speech on Saturday.
Attendees at the rally in Paris – as well as at similar rallies in towns and cities across the country – joined in solidarity, raising a giant pencil, an image that’s become a symbol of free expression in the wake of the murders.