Richard MatherRichard Mather writes and edits for Israel News Online. He has also written for the Jewish Media Agency, Poetica Magazine, Drash Pit, Voices Israel and Chabad Lubavitch’s Holiday Times Magazine. He lives in Manchester, England.
France has a big problem. I am not talking about the dire economic conditions in the eurozone or the number of French troops fighting Islamists in Mali. I am talking about the ugly problem of anti-Semitism that has seen French Jews flee their native country for the safety of Israel and even the UK.
In the past few days, around 400 Jews have left France to live in Israel because of the unbearable anti-Semitism in their home country. Another 300 French Jews are expected to arrive in Israel over the next few weeks, rising to 2,500 by the end of the year. Many of those who make Aliyah cite Muslim anti-Semitism as the reason for leaving.
To illustrate the point, a recent report by the Service de Protection de la Communaute Juive (SPCJ) contains some unedifying figures. Physical and verbal attacks against Jews in France have increased by 82 per cent, rising from 171 cases in 2011 to 315 cases in 2012. Worryingly, a quarter of these incidents involved the use of a weapon.
The same report also contained the shocking observation that in the days following the Toulouse murders in March 2010, there was an average of nine anti-Semitic incidents every 24 hours. After the bombing of a kosher supermarket in Sarcelles, there were a further 28 incidents in the following week.
The report by the SPCJ makes it clear that the number of anti-Semitic attacks outweighs the number of other racist attacks. In fact, the increase in anti-Semitic acts in France in 2012 was more than 8 times higher than the increase of other racist and xenophobic acts. This clearly shows that France has a problem with anti-Semitism, rather than racism in general.
French Jews speak of a climate of fear in France. Most of the attacks take place on the street and on public transport. Many Jews say they are afraid to read Hebrew books on the trains or wear a Star of David in public. Paris is the worst place to live if you are Jewish. Indeed, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the capital vastly outstrips Judeophobic incidents in Marseille, Lyon and Strasbourg.
But even in places where there are fewer anti-Semitic incidents (such as Marseille), the attacks are disturbing and are strangely reminiscent of fascist Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. The following is an excerpt from the SPCJ report:
A Jewish young man and his friend is yelled at by a group of individuals: “We are for Palestine; we don’t like Jews; we’re gonna kill you. We’re gonna exterminate you all.” The two men keep walking when about 10 individuals storm onto them. The victim is hit on the head, which makes him fall. He is then kicked all over the body while on the ground. They steal his gold Star of David. He suffers from a sprain edneck, an internal hemorrhage and needs stitches near the eye.
This is shocking but typical of the wave of anti-Semitic attacks sweeping Europe. But the media is eerily silent on the issue. It’s as if newspapers and TV broadcasters don’t quite believe this is happening. Or perhaps they just don’t care.
While many French Jews have got on a plane to Israel to escape the violence, some have sought sanctuary in the UK, which is surprising given the level of British hostility towards Jews and Zionists. Even so, many French Jews have decided that London is a good place to be, with St John’s Wood and South Kensington being the most favored places of refuge.
In fact, St John's Wood Synagogue in London has set up a separate French minyan, attended by 120 people every Shabbat. Rabbi Mordechai Fhima, who is from Paris, leads the growing congregation. "Every Shabbat there are new faces,” he says. “My congregants tell me that here they can practice as a Jew more openly."
Britain’s outgoing chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, has spoken out against Judeophobia in Europe, saying that "the position of Jews in Europe today is very difficult.” He has expressed deep concern that the legal question marks over circumcision and shechita have left Jews wondering whether it is possible to remain in Europe.
The sad truth is that Europe has never looked after its Jewish communities. Even after the Holocaust, the political establishment prefers to demonize the Jewish people, particularly settlers in Judea and Samaria. And instead of spending money on tackling anti-Semitism, the EU donates millions of euros to the feckless Palestinians who spend the cash on anti-Semitic textbooks in order to indoctrinate Arab schoolchildren.
I sincerely hope that those Jews who have sought sanctuary in the UK find peace and quiet in the suburbs of St John’s Wood and Kensington. But anti-Semitism in Britain – often masquerading as anti-Zionism – is a real and growing problem. An unholy mix of left-wing Israelophobia, Islamic Jew-hatred and political apathy over the fate of Jews in Judea and Samaria has severely distorted political discourse in the UK. Indeed, there is not a single mainstream national newspaper that is friendly towards Israel. Nor is there a mainstream political party that has the guts to stand up to the Palestinian lobby.
So, I will not be too surprised if French Jews in England realize their mistake and decide to make Aliyah. Of course, Europe’s loss will be Israel’s gain. And here lies the paradox. Muslim anti-Semites long for the day when “Palestine” (i.e. Eretz Israel) is Judenrein. But their hatred of Jews is having the opposite effect. More and more Jews are going to Israel. The fact that Muslims and their anti-Zionist fellow travelers are responsible for Jews making Aliyah is a delicious irony.
It is possible that some Jews fleeing persecution in Europe will take up residence in Judea and Samaria. After all, Israel is a small country and there are a limited number of vacant houses within the Green Line. Therefore it is impractical for Catherine Ashton and her EU cohorts to call for the dismantling of Jewish settlements when so many Europeans Jews need a place to live.
If the exodus of Jews from France and the rest of Europe continues, then the building of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria is both necessary and inevitable. Tzipi Livni may want to bear this in mind while she negotiates with the Palestinians.