A few weeks short of ten years ago, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon caused a bit of an international incident when he told French Jews to move to Israel immediately to escape Antisemitism. In July 2004:
He told a meeting of the American Jewish Association in Jerusalem that Jews around the world should relocate to Israel as early as possible.
France’s foreign ministry said it had asked Israel for an explanation of the “unacceptable comments”.
French Jewish leaders, interviewed on France-2 Television, said Mr Sharon’s remarks were unhelpful.
“These comments do not bring calm, peace and serenity that we all need,” said Patrick Gaubert, of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Licra). “I think Mr Sharon would have done better tonight to have kept quiet.”
“It’s not up to him to decide for us,” said Theo Klein, honorary president of Crif, which represents French Jewish organisations.
Ten years later, the Jews of France are listening:
to the Jewish Agency for Israel, during the first three months of the
year, 1,407 of France’s roughly 500,000 Jews left for Israel. This is a
rate four times higher than for the same period last year. 3,288 French
Jews immigrated to Israel last year, in a 72 percent increase over 2012.
French émigrés surpassed the number of American émigrés for the first
time since 1948, the year Israel was founded. The Jewish Agency says it
expects some 5,000 to make the trip this year.
The reason for the Jewish move? According to the Washington Post, a new Antisemitism growing it France:
Here and across the region, they are talking of the rise of a “new anti-Semitism” based on the convergence of four main factors. They cite classic scapegoating amid hard economic times, the growing strength of far-right nationalists, a deteriorating relationship between black Europeans and Jews, and, importantly, increasing tensions with Europe’s surging Muslim population.
In Western Europe, no nation has seen the climate for Jews deteriorate more than France.
Anti-Semitism has ebbed and flowed here and throughout the region since the end of World War II, with outbreaks of violence and international terrorism — particularly in the 1980s and early 2000s — often linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Jewish leaders here are now warning of a recent and fundamental shift tied to a spurt of homegrown anti-Semitism.
This month, authorities arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national, and charged him with the May killings of four people inside a Jewish museum in Brussels. The attack was the deadliest act of anti-Semitism in Western Europe since a gunman killed seven people, including three children at a Jewish day school, in Toulouse in 2012. Nemmouche allegedly launched his attack after a tour of duty with rebels in Syria, prompting fears of additional violence to come as more of the hundreds of French nationals fighting there make their way home.
In a country that is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, the first three months of the year saw reported acts of anti-Semitic violence in France skyrocket to 140 incidents, a 40 percent increase from the same period last year. This month, two young Jewish men were severely beaten on their way to synagogue in an eastern suburb of Paris.
Near the city’s Montmartre district, home to the Moulin Rouge and the Sacré-Coeur basilica, a woman verbally accosted a Jewish mother before rattling the carriage of her 6-month-old child and shouting, “dirty Jewess . . . you Jews have too many children,” according to a report filed by France’s National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, not far from the rolling vineyards of Bordeaux, stars of David were recently spray-painted on the homes of Jews.
In July of 2004 Ariel Sharon warned French Jews it was time to leave the country. It took ten years but they are starting to listen. Let’s hope it is not too late.