According 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.
There are a number of factors driving the increased emigration. France’s flat economy is leading many of the younger generation to leave to search for other opportunities in the more vibrant Israeli economy. Many Jews also feel a cultural pull from Israel. However, many are leaving because they no longer feel safe in France.
The decision to abandon France for Israel does not come lightly. There is a growing awareness of the increased anti-Semitism in France and other parts of Europe. The success of far-right parties in elections has created a less friendly, even somewhat hostile, environment for Jews and other minorities.
Recent events have alarmed French Jews enough that they are beginning to take action. Earlier this month, a French-born man was accused of an anti-Semitic attack where he gunned down four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. On the Champs-Élysées, a mother of two says she was punched by a gang of Muslim girls who called her “dirty Jew.” Her Orthodox husband now wears a baseball cap over his skullcap when he is in public to avoid harassment. According to the Jewish Community Protection Service, Jews are the victims of 40 percent of hate crimes in France.
Frenchman Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary general of the European Jewish Congress, commented that a majority of France’s Jews were remaining in France and that relations between Jews and the country’s Muslim population were generally peaceful. Cwajgenbaum said, “French anxiety represents the general anxiety of Jews in Europe, who fear for their safety and future. If the situation continues, there will be an accelerated movement out of Europe.”