French-Israelis call on Jews to flee France and join them

Thomas Helm

The National  /  July 7, 2024 

Divisions kicked up by snap French elections have led many French Jews feeling like life in Europe’s largest Jewish community is intolerable.

As the line grew at a boarding gate in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Dan waited by a plug socket charging his phone until the last minute before joining the throng of mostly French Jews bound for Marseille.

Israel’s carrier, El Al, makes the trip five times a week. Marseille is home to France’s second-largest Jewish community, numbering about 80,000 people. After the US, France has the biggest Jewish community outside Israel.

Dan was going back to vote in France’s snap election called by President Emmanuel Macron in June.

The election, which held its second round on July 7, sparked huge debate among French-Israelis about the future of the Republic and more particularly about the future of French Jews, who say they desperately need the state to step up and tackle spiraling anti-Semitism.

Dan said he would be voting for the far right, something that would have been unthinkable not so long ago, having been established by openly antisemitic politicians.

Despite the far right’s history, Dan was certain about his choice. “There is an urgent need to stop the far left, which has allied itself with radical Muslims – if we don’t stop it France will become even more dangerous for Jews,” he said.

Other Israelis have given up on France entirely and are calling for all French Jews to migrate to Israel, despite the country being in the middle of a war with Hamas in Gaza and possibly facing another more devastating one with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Making the case for them to migrate, Israeli politician Sharren Haskel described to The National how her 88-year-old French grandmother was attacked on the streets of Paris last month.

“She was on her way for a blood test when two Muslim men attacked her from behind, pulled her to the ground, kicked her and broke her teeth,” she said. “They then spat on her, called her a dirty Jew and ran away.”

Haskel said her grandmother was visibly Jewish from her dress and the Star of David necklace she wore.

“This is an international issue; Jews have to hide their identity so that they are not attacked,” she said.

“I call on all western Jews to come to Israel, from France to the US. They should come to their cultural, ancestral and historic homeland,” she added.

“We will not be at the mercy of any hostile people or government. The world has become a dangerous place for Jews, who can no longer worship freely, walk freely and whose businesses are being attacked across the globe.”

French Jews were bracing for more violence as the country held the second round of voting on Sunday.

Authorities deployed 33,000 police across the nation amid fears the results might spark mass rioting, particularly in the very possible event that the far-right won.

The elections come amid widespread anger over the Gaza war, another factor behind French Jews feeling under so much threat.

France has one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations and the far-left, Muslim or non-Muslim, is heavily invested in the Palestinian cause.

“I experienced right wing anti-Semitism growing up in France,” Dan said. “But the insults of local boys in the rural town I grew up in as a child were nowhere near as threatening as the Islamic terrorism and far-left ideology you see today.”

He mentioned a particularly traumatic recent story: the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl by two teenagers in a Paris suburb, in what police described as an antisemitic attack.

Dov Maimon, a French-Israeli rabbi and scholar who wrote an action plan to bring French Jews to Israel, says the community’s rising desire to migrate is also down to the declining economic situation in France.

Nonetheless, he believes that anti-Semitism, fuelled by changing demography, is still the main reason, and that the Gaza war dramatically worsened the situation.

“Generally, we witness a Jewish community in particular distress every five to ten years somewhere in the world,” he explained.

“Israel is well used to dealing with massive waves of migration in an emergency, and French Jews would be welcomed in particular by the many French-Israelis who already live here. Eighty per cent of French Jews have family in Israel,” he said.

Haskel agrees, despite Israel being under the pressure of war. “Absolutely Israel could handle the migration,” she said. “Israel has on many occasions welcomed far greater numbers than we would expect from France in 2024.”

“Many French Jews will be waiting until the end of the war before moving to Israel, but they still understand that such a move is necessary for them to raise children safely, to not be afraid of their identity and to be able to be who they were born to be.”

Maimon even believes this traumatic moment is part of a divine prophecy.

“We need to understand that God is giving French Jews push factors to come to Israel,” he said.

“We are living in an antisemitic moment that is part of a divine plan. In the bigger story of 3,000 years of history, this is just a small episode.

“We were very lucky to have gone to France to learn from the West. Now it’s time to go home, to Israel. Not everyone understands it yet, but the divine message is very clear.”

Thomas Helm is Jerusalem correspondent at The National