Will French Jews Give Up on France?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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Last week, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu called on the European Jews to make aliyah (return) to Israel. The remarks annoyed French officials and have sparked a lively debate in Israel and in the Jewish Diaspora on whether they should heed Mr. Netanyahu’s call. No longer feeling protected, some have suggested that the European, and in particular French, Jews should not stay to face rising anti-Semitism and “indifferent” officials. Others feel that Jews need France just as much as France needs them. Either way, it is clear from many of the op-eds and editorials in Israeli newspapers that, for many European Jews, aliyah has become a more viable option than in the past.

In Israel there appears to be a vast difference in the way last week’s terrorist attacks in France have been perceived. In an op-ed for the Yedioth Ahronoth, Efraim Halevy points out that while the rest of France saw the attacks as aimed at the French society writ large, “the vast majority of Israelis saw the attack at the supermarket as the primary incident — both because the target was clearly Jewish and because all four of the victims were Jews. The fact that they were buried in Israel intensified identification with the second event and its significance, while France preferred to highlight the first event and the universal nature of the murder of the 12 people at the newspaper….The attempt to use the attacks to bring France in line with Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians — that is, unity not only in the face of al-Qaeda and Islamic State, but against Mahmoud Abbas too — was unsuccessful and only deepened the dangerous gaps between Paris and Jerusalem.”

Perceptions matter, and the decision to bury the four Jewish victims in Israel has given fuel to the debate about the future of the Jewish diaspora. At least one Jewish daily, The Forward, has expressed its disapproval of the Prime Minister’s call, noting: “Zionist ideology posits that Jews can only be safe and fulfilled in the land of Israel, and clearly — with a population reaching beyond 6 million now and immigration continuing despite sporadic violence — a steady stream of Jews agree. But must we continue to negate the Diaspora, turn it into a place either frightening or vapid, where the twin terrors of anti-Semitism and assimilation threaten the future, in order to boost Israel?…Europe needs its Jews as much as some Jews still need and want a place in Europe. Even if immigration to Israel understandably increases, it is our duty to redouble support for those Jews who wish to remain where they are.”

But most of those commenting on this issue have shown less patience with what many of them believe to be the rising threat of anti-Semitism in France and elsewhere. The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick does not mince words when she accuses France of “systemic” anti-Semitism, adding that “Muslims are the main perpetrators of violence. And they operate in social environments that are at a minimum indifferent to Jewish suffering and victimization. This violence and indifference is abetted by non-Islamic elites. French authorities minimize the unique threat Jews face. And the media are happy to ignore the issue, or when given the slightest opportunity, to claim that the Jews are responsible for their own victimization….Under these circumstances, where the entire French system is stacked against them, what can be done for French Jewry? What can they do for themselves? It is far from clear that France is capable of correcting its downward trajectory.”

Even those who don’t necessarily agree with this assessment appear to be put in a bind. Commenting on many French Jews who consider France their national home, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yossi Shain reflects on what might become of many of them: “A large part of the French Jewry has been going through accelerated ‘Israelization’ processes for years: In its language, in its culture and religiousness, at home and in the communities….The French-Republican dream faded away for many Jews not just because of the growing Arab-Islamic presence accompanied by violent anti-Semitism, but also because Israel has turned into a source of attraction and influence for the Jewish world….The more secular French Jews are caught in a big trap. Many of them still believe in the Republic’s universal values, including the secularism doctrine. They feel that France, rather than Israel, is their national home….The recent terror attacks worsen the situation of liberal Jews like Horvilleur. Some of them will become more Zionist, perhaps beyond their original plan, while others will -drift away or look for immigration options in North America and Australia.”

Then there are those who push against the narrative that the European, and in particular French Jews must persevere through the current “storm” in which France is caught, with Arutz Sheva’s Douglas Altabef worrying that constitutes “a yet another difficult role to be thrust into, that potentially of the sacrificial lamb. The idea is that Jews need to stick it out in France in order to make sure the larger culture can endure….What makes this willingness to turn the Jews into the test case for the durability of French civilization even more dubious and I believe ill-fated, is that all of the cries to return to the ‘true France, the essential France’ might be based on a colossal fiction….So, while we perhaps hope against hope that the French do in fact wake up, and see the threat to their civilization from an Islamism that hates everything about it, let us not force our brethren to be the test case or the litmus test or the guinea pigs or the korbanot to see if it can all turn out for the best.”

Finally, in a blog for the Times of Israel, Thane Rosenbaum warns that unless adequate measures are taken, Europe is likely to lose much of its Jewish population, with last week’s terrorist attack proving to be a catalyst and: “ironically, is having a bittersweet effect on convincing Jews to give up on Europe and make Israel their home….According to Natan Sharansky, the director of the Jewish Agency, it is estimated that 15,000 French Jews will make aliya to Israel this year, with as many as 50,000 not far behind. (In 2014, the number was 7,000.)….History has not been kind to nations that have lost, exiled, or killed their Jews. Memo to Europe: Be careful what you allow to happen under your watch. It comes with a big price. Wherever Jews have lived they have brought initiative, innovation, and a general Jewish kop for making things a lot more interesting.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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