A tipping point for French Jews appears to have been reached with the attack on a Jewish grocery store and subsequent taking of hostages by al-Qaeda terrorists. Already feeling alone and under siege, Jews in France have been leaving the country for several years by the thousands. But the attacks, the murders, the kidnappings, the bombing of synagogues, and the threats have convinced French Jews that they can no longer be safe in their own country due to the rise of antisemitism.
France is the most antisemitic country in Europe. Jews were the target of 40% of racist crimes in 2013 despite making up only 1% of the population. This has precipitated a mass exodus of Jews that has accelerated this year.
It’s believed that more than 100,000 French Jews have left the country in the last few years. At the start of the decade, there were 500,000 Jews in France — the most in the EU. How many will be in France by the end of the decade?
From being the largest Jewish community in the EU at the start of this decade, with a population of around 500,000, it is expected by Jewish community leaders to have fallen to 400,000 within a few years. That figure is thought by some to be too optimistic. Anecdotally, every French Jew I know has either already left or is working out how to leave.
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik who is now chair of the Jewish Agency Chairman, said last year that 2,254 French Jews moved to Israel during the first five months of 2014, against only 580 in all of 2013. That is a staggering 289 per cent increase, but in recent months the figure is thought to have increased exponentially.
The number expected to leave this year for Israel was estimated at over 10,000 – and that was before today’s events. And that is just to Israel. Many are coming to Britain as part of the wider French exodus under President Hollande.
David Tibi, the then leader of Paris’s main Jewish umbrella group, left last July. As he told the Jewish Chronicle: “There is an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in the streets. My daughter was attacked in the tramway, so was my son. The aggressors made anti-semitic comments and pushed them around. We no longer have a place in France.”
The Jewish school shooting in Toulouse in 2012, in which four people were murdered at point blank range by a French-born jihadist trained in the Middle East; the growing support for Marine Le Pen’s National Front; and the mass popularity of anti-Semitic public figures such as comedian Dieudonné, are all part of the undercurrent of anti-Semitism that frames French life. And more recently synagogues have firebombed and Jewish areas attacked by mobs.
Almost of all these attacks have been carried out by Muslims.
Pollard, publisher of The Jewish Chronicle,, also said, “It is the largest emigration of Jews anywhere since the war. That’s a simple fact.”
Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia confirmed the mass exodus to Israel, Britain, and North America:
Mr Korsia said this was a ‘warning signal’ for France.
He said: ‘Jews have been killed and there were the shootings in Toulouse and in Brussels. In general, Jews feel vulnerable in our society.
‘The Jews who were murdered were targeted specifically because they were Jewish.
‘This means France hasn’t found the words and actions necessary to reassure them.’
Joel Mergui, lay chairman of the National Union of French Synagogues, added: ‘At some synagogues, whole benches are suddenly empty.’
Strasbourg-born banker Myriam Amsellem left France for London because the UK is ‘safer and freer’ than her home country, where she claims Jewish traditions were stopped.
She told the Jewish Chronicle last year: ‘We feel a lot more comfortable here. I look at France now and I know I would not want to be there.’
Today police across Britain were stepping up security in Jewish areas after the terror outrage in France, a community body said.
The Community Security Trust (CST), which provides security advice to Britain’s estimated 260,000 Jews, said police in London and Manchester in northern England had agreed to increase patrols at synagogues and other venues over the next days.
‘There is currently no known link to the UK, but CST is in continuing contact with police and government, and there will be increased policing in Jewish neighbourhoods for this weekend’s Sabbath,’ the trust said on its website.
How did things get so bad in France compared to Great Britain and other European countries? Part of it is almost certainly the way the French approach their Muslim population, segregating them and not encouraging them to assimilate. Time magazine wrote about this divide:
With more than 5 million Muslims, France may have Western Europe’s largest Muslim community, but its relationship with Islam has been tenser than, say, Britain’s or Germany’s. An older generation of French Muslims has been alienated by memories of the Algerian War in the 1950s, when local groups battled for independence from more than a century of French rule, with its heavy-handed disdain for local customs. Their children and grandchildren frequently feel excluded from mainstream society because of their Arabic names or the color of their skin.
Such feelings may be shared by other European Muslims, but French Muslims face not just social hurdles, but an officially-enshrined hostility to public displays of faith. Having fought its revolution, in part, to keep priests from meddling in state affairs, France has a passion for keeping church and state separate. “Secularism,” states france.fr, France’s official information website, “is a French invention.” Where the French cherish the neutrality of the public realm, free from any religious symbolism, mainstream Muslim culture embraces public declarations of religiosity through the veil or the call to prayer. France’s cherished codes of secularism clash with the public nature of the practice of Islam, a faith that in Muslim-majority countries is stamped on public life, from politics to laws to the wearing of beards and veils, or breaking for prayers in the middle of the work-day.
Such a ban on Islamic clothing would be unthinkable in the U.S. or Britain, although our own radical secularists and atheists would probably support one. The point being, while the far right is just as guilty as Muslims in their antisemitic behavior, Muslims feel empowered to commit violent acts against Jews due to their “otherness” and being on the outside looking in to French society.
It took the 80 million dead of World War II, including the extermination of 6 million Jews, to drive antisemitism from the public squares of Europe. Now, thanks to expanding numbers of Muslims, it is re-emerging from the dark corners where it had been hiding — and in many places, it is becoming acceptable — even fashionable — to once again blame the Jews for the ills of the world.
It’s no wonder that the Jews are leaving for friendlier climes.