Anti-Semitism in France Is Prompt­ing More Jews To Say Au Revoir for Is­rael

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - By Liam Hoare

Nowhere in the de­vel­oped world has there been an in­crease in aliyah as marked as in France. The Jewish Agency for Is­rael and Is­rael’s Min­istry of Im­mi­grant Ab­sorp­tion es­ti­mate that more than 5,000 French Jews — 1% of the com­mu­nity — will im­mi­grate to Is­rael in 2014, com­pared with 3,289 in 2013 and 1,917 in 2012. Last year, more Jews im­mi­grated to Is­rael from France than from the United States.

The fac­tors push­ing Jews out of France are known. Anti-Semitism, man­i­fest in both hate speech and vi­o­lent ac­tion, has gen­er­ated grow­ing fear, even among those who haven’t expe- ri­enced it first­hand. While the re­cent as­saults on two syn­a­gogues in Paris with wor­ship­pers bar­ri­caded in­side is ex­treme and dis­tinct from the gen­eral prob­lem of French anti-Semitism, they show how se­vere the sit­u­a­tion on the ground can be.

Aline Le Bail-Kre­mer, a press of­fi­cer for the French civil rights group SOS Racisme, lives near Don Isaac Abra­vanel Syn­a­gogue on rue de la Roquette, where one of the at­tacks took

place and ob­served it from her win­dow.

“The scene was very vi­o­lent, with ter­ri­fy­ing and anti-Semitic slo­gans” she told the For­ward via an email. The pro­test­ers, she said, came with “base­ball bats, chairs, ta­bles stolen from the bars [which they] used as pro­jec­tiles.”

In­side, mem­bers of the Jewish com­mu­nity were gath­ered to com­mem­o­rate the lives of three teens re­cently found mur­dered in Is­rael, ap­par­ently by ter­ror­ists. Out­side, syn­a­gogue se­cu­rity forces, and later po­lice, de­fended the house of wor­ship dur­ing an al­ter­ca­tion that lasted for an hour and 40 min­utes, said Le Bail-Kre­mer.

“It was clearly an anti-Semitic at­tack,” she said.

Anti-Semitism, how­ever, is not the only push fac­tor, even if it is the most shock­ing. At the same time, there has been a resur­gence of na­tion­al­ism, xeno­pho­bia and the re­ac­tionary Catholic right, with the Na­tional Front win­ning the Euro­pean elec­tions in May. And an eco­nomic malaise is im­pact­ing young people in par­tic­u­lar: The un­em­ploy­ment rate in France for those younger than 25 runs as high as 24.8%.

Anti-Semitism, how­ever, is not the only push fac­tor, even if it is the most shock­ing. At the same time, there has been a resur­gence of na­tion­al­ism, xeno­pho­bia and the re­ac­tionary Catholic right, with the Na­tional Front win­ning the Euro­pean elec­tions in May. And an eco­nomic malaise is im­pact­ing young people in par­tic­u­lar: The un­em­ploy­ment rate in France for those younger than 25 runs as high as 24.8%.

But these fac­tors alone can­not ex­plain aliyah. Af­ter all, it would be easy for French Jews to im­mi­grate to Mon­treal, with whose res­i­dents they share a com­mon tongue, or to nearby Lon­don, with its syn­a­gogues, cul­tural cen­ters and free state-run Jewish day schools. The spe­cific choice to go to Is­rael is in­dica­tive of how deeply em­bed­ded the Zion­ist feel­ing is to­day in the French Jewish com­mu­nity.

His­tor­i­cally, the Zion­iza­tion of French Jewry has much to do with the wave of North African Jews im­mi­grat­ing from the Maghreb af­ter French de­col­o­niza­tion. Dur­ing the 1950s and ’60s, around 235,000 Maghrebi Jews, some of whom had French ci­ti­zen­ship, came to set­tle at the heart of the Fran­co­phone world. Their ar­rival did not just change the out­ward ap­pear­ance of French Jewry, which un­til then had been a mostly Ashke­nazi com­mu­nity in­clud­ing refugees from East­ern Europe — it al­tered French Jewish iden­tity it­self.

The Jews of North Africa, the Is­raeli his­to­rian Michel Abit­bol writes, had “strong links to the for­mer colo­nial regime and deep sym­pa­thies for the State of Is­rael.” In tan­dem with Is­rael’s vic­tory in the Six Day War and a break­down in Franco-Is­raeli re­la­tions, this de­mo­graphic up­heaval en­gen­dered a new, stronger form of French Jewish iden­tity — a shift in em­pha­sis from be­ing Jewish French­men to be­ing French Jews — cen­tred on Holo­caust re­mem­brance and on sol­i­dar­ity with Is­rael. “The con­tri­bu­tion of North African Jews to French Jewish iden­tity can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated,” Abit­bol states.

Gérard Co­hen is mak­ing aliyah to Jerusalem in late July with his wife, Nathalie Co­hen, and three of his four chil­dren. When his par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion came from Morocco, Tu­nisia and Al­ge­ria, he told me, they thought France “would of­fer a bet­ter life to their chil­dren.” In­deed it did, but he now asks, “If we stayed here an­other 25 years, would my chil­dren have a bet­ter life than I had? And I’m not sure, and the more I asked my­self, the more I wasn’t sure. “Now we are sure that it’s time to go home, be­cause the best place to be a Jew is Is­rael; this is some­thing that ap­pears ob­vi­ous, but it wasn’t for a long time for us,” Co­hen said. Co­hen said that the at­mos­phere in France has changed, that when he was a stu­dent, “no one cared that you were a Jew, no one cared that you were an Arab, no one cared where you came from.” Now, from in­sults on the school play­ground to the per­ceived de­mo­niza­tion of Is­rael in the French me­dia to the green ac­tivist Pierre Min­naert com­ing out the day af­ter the as­sault on the two syn­a­gogues and say­ing, “When syn­a­gogues be­have as em­bassies, it’s no won­der they suf­fer the same at­tacks as an em­bassy,” Co­hen said he feels that “be­ing a Jew in Paris in 2014 is a lit­tle bit risky…. You can feel it ev­ery day.” Co­hen al­luded to a re­cent statistic show­ing that 74% of French Jews are con­sid­er­ing mak­ing aliyah. More im­me­di­ately, there has been a con­scious at­tempt over the past decade by the Jewish Agency for Is­rael and com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tions in France to build up the con­nec­tion be­tween French Jews and Is­rael. More than 8,600 French Jewish high school stu­dents have used the Bac Bleu Blanc pro­gram, which takes high school stu­dents on ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ences to Is­rael, over the past 11 years. In 2013, al­most 1,000 young French Jews took part in Masa, a pro­gram that brings them to Is­rael for be­tween five and 12 months to study, in­tern or vol­un­teer. Seventy per­cent of French stu­dents com­ing through Masa end up mak­ing aliyah.

“That more and more people are de­cid­ing to go to Is­rael is no doubt re­lated to the long-stand­ing pol­icy of ours and the Jewish com­mu­nity in France to con­nect ev­ery young Jew to Is­rael with dif­fer­ent pro­grammes and ex­pe­ri­ences,” Natan Sha­ran­sky, chair­man of the Jewish Agency, told me while he was in Paris for an event for new olim in early July. “So when people de­cide that now is the time to leave, they al­ready have the State of Is­rael in their minds.”

Co­hen said that his el­dest daugh­ter, who is 19, made aliyah three years ago and is cur­rently study­ing law in Jerusalem, while his sec­ond daugh­ter, 16, in­di­cated her wish to fol­low her sis­ter af­ter she com­pletes her fi­nal ex­ams. Both of them par­tic­i­pated in Bac Bleu Blanc. His other two chil­dren re­ceive a Zion­ist ed­u­ca­tion at the lo­cal Jewish day school. The par­ents of Co­hen’s wife al­ready live in Is­rael, as fa­mil­ial con­nec­tions are also an im­por­tant mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor for aliyah.

For Edouard Harari, 22, study­ing in Is­rael for a year as part of his de­gree in Jewish his­tory was an im­por­tant el­e­ment of the process of dis­cov­er­ing his Zion­ist iden­tity. “I think it was some­thing that was very pro­gres­sive, that ev­ery year I learned more about Jewish his­tory and Is­rael, I felt closer and closer to it, and when I spent my year abroad there, I re­ally felt at home,” he said. “So af­ter I fin­ished my de­gree, I knew I wanted to go.”

Harari is mak­ing aliyah so he can serve in the Is­rael De­fense Forces while he is still el­i­gi­ble for mil­i­tary ser­vice. “It’s some­thing all Is­raelis do, and that’s very im­por­tant to so­ci­ety. I would feel kind of il­le­git­i­mate if I made aliyah and didn’t serve in the army,” he said. “Even though I’m very at­tached to my French iden­tity, I’m also strongly con­nected to Is­rael, and I feel like I’m in the right place and this is the right time to make this huge move.”

In­deed, de­spite ev­ery­thing, the French Jewish com­mu­nity is strongly pa­tri­otic and ide­al­is­tic. Con­gre­ga­tions say a prayer for the Repub­lic each Sab­bath, at the end of the Satur­day morn­ing ser­vice: “May France live in hap­pi­ness and pros­per­ity. May unity and har­mony make her strong and great. May she en­joy last­ing peace and pre­serve her spirit of no­bil­ity among the na­tions.” Harari told me, “If it meant los­ing my French ci­ti­zen­ship, maybe I wouldn’t [make aliyah], be­cause it’s some­thing I’m very at­tached to.”

When I asked Co­hen if mak­ing aliyah was also tinged with sad­ness for what he’s leav­ing be­hind, he de­scribed him­self as “un en­fant de l’Republique, a child of the Repub­lic.” His mother raised him and his two broth­ers by her­self from when he was 3 years old, and Co­hen at­tended a pub­lic school in Paris as op­posed to a Jewish day school. He be­lieves that the French Repub­lic “helped us a lot.”

“My fa­ther is Is­rael and my mother is France. I’m not happy when I hear people who do not ap­pre­ci­ate all the good things the French Repub­lic and all of the French people have given us,” he said. But he went on to say that “the sit­u­a­tion has changed. It’s time for me to go where I be­long; it’s time to go home. My land, my home, is Is­rael.”


Feel­ing Threat­ened: Thou­sands of pro-Pales­tinian demon­stra­tors as­sailed Is­rael’s mil­i­tary at­tacks in Gaza at a July 13 protest in Paris.


Not the Best of Times: Al­ter­ca­tions in the Parisian streets have co­in­cided with a resur­gence of na­tion­al­ism, xeno­pho­bia and the re­ac­tionary Catholic right.


Un­der Siege:

The Syn­a­gogue Don Isaac Abra­vanel came un­der at­tack at the July 13 demon­stra­tion.

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