Sunday, November 28, 2004

Rising Anti-Semitism in France means more Jews are leaving for Israel 

From: "Eretz Israel" at Year5765@zahav.net.il

As attacks rise in France, Jews flock to Israel

By Andrea Stone

Barbara and Moshe Journo left Lyons, France, with their 1-year-old daughter, Lital, four months ago to move into a cramped apartment at the Beit Canada Absorption Center here. They have no jobs, little money and despite intensive Hebrew immersion remain more inclined to
answer yes with a oui than a ken.

But like thousands of other French Jews who have moved to Israel in the past four years, they are glad to be here. Back in France, they say, rising anti-Semitic attacks by Muslim immigrants and the anti-Israel bias of the French government and media had made life increasingly
uncomfortable for them.

"We want our daughter to grow up in Israel and not France, (where) it's dangerous because of the Arabs," says Barbara, 28. Asked if suicide bombings here by Palestinian terrorists aren't even more dangerous, she shakes her head. "Israel is ours," she says. "We feel here that God helps us."

Last week, Jews from 23 countries were living at the new immigrant complex in southern Jerusalem. But only the French - usually a third of the families who spend six months here
adjusting to their new country - cite anti-Semitism as a prime motivator for emigrating, known here as "making Aliyah," or "going up."

"It's there in the air" of France, says Ahuva Volk, the center's cultural coordinator. "They all felt it at one time or another."

Sunday, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Strasbourg from Adolf Hitler's troops with a speech that condemned the increase of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes in France. Last month, 88 tombs in a Jewish cemetery in Brumath, near Strasbourg, were painted with swastikas and "SS" initials.

"The wrong committed here is too deep for the state not to react with extreme severity and firmness toward all those who are nostalgic for racism and anti-Semitism," Rafarrin said.

Anti-Semitic incidents are not confined to France. Thursday, an Orthodox Jew was shot and killed in Antwerp, Belgium.

Increased attacks on Jews

A dwindling number of émigrés from the former Soviet Union and the 4-year-old Palestinian uprising have reduced immigration to Israel. But the number of French Jews making Aliyah
is rising.

Since 2001, more than 2,000 French Jews have arrived each year, double the rate of the 1990s and more than from any other single country, says the Jewish Agency, the quasi-governmental agency that oversees immigration and absorption. That's a far larger proportion than from the USA, home to 10 times more Jews. There are about 600,000 Jews in France (about 1% of the population) vs. 6 million in the USA. France has the world's third-largest Jewish community after the USA and Israel.

Although most come here for religious or ideological reasons, the recent influx stems directly from increased attacks against Jewish schools, synagogues and cemeteries, and harassment of Orthodox Jews. Jewish leaders complain that few cases are prosecuted.

The number of violent anti-Semitic attacks in France increased to 193 in 2002 from 32 in 2001, and anti-Semitic attacks accounted for half of all racist attacks in France in 2002, according to a report by France's National Consulting Committee on Human Rights, an independent watchdog group. In 2003, the number of attacks fell to 125, according to the committee.

Some of the perpetrators are Muslims who sympathize with the Palestinian cause. They are among as many as 6 million Arab immigrants from North Africa who make up about 10% of France's population.

Much of the French Jewish community shares those roots. About 70% are one or two generations removed from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. But the increasing Arab population has convinced many "that the game is over for the Jew" in France, says Avi Zana, director of the Jewish Agency's European desk. Volk says nearly every French émigré family arrives with stories of persecution.

"France is an Arab country. That's enough for us to leave," says Moshe Bendrihem, 50, a Morrocan-born Jew who moved from a Paris suburb four years ago to Eli, a West Bank settlement. Bendrihem wears a skullcap, or kippah. He didn't always. "It is impossible to wear a kippah in France," he said, for fear of being singled out for attack.

At a welcoming ceremony for 200 French Jews this summer, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon advised all French Jews to "move immediately" to Israel. The comment enraged French officials.

But there is no doubt that anti-Zionism has morphed into anti-Semitism in many parts of France. Jews complain that French media rarely display the same level of outrage over anti-Jewish violence by French Muslims as Israeli attacks against Palestinians here. The Jewish community was infuriated that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was treated at a French military hospital, where French President Jacques Chirac paid a visit.

"Paris became the capital of Palestine" for two weeks, Zana says. Such events "are one other fact that goes into the decision" to leave France for Israel, he says.

The mutual admiration is apparent in the Palestinian territories, where French flags and portraits of Chirac adorn storefronts. After Arafat died Nov. 11, the French president eulogized the man the United States and Israel blamed for terrorist attacks against Israelis as "a man
of courage and conviction."

Gerard Araud, France's ambassador to Israel, says his country "is neither better nor worse than other European countries" when it comes to anti-Semitism. He blames anti-Jewish violence in
part on "a transfer from the intifada (uprising) to the suburbs of European cities." Araud says
France has increased penalties for hate crimes, added school programs that teach tolerance and
worked with Israel to shut down anti-Semitic Web sites.

The law of return

France has had a mixed record in its treatment of Jews. In the early 19th century, Emperor Napoleon emancipated European Jewry, removing economic and social restraints that had confined them to ghettos. In 1936, Leon Blum became France's first Jewish prime minister.

But Blum was later arrested and turned over to the Germans by the French Vichy
government, which collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, when tens of thousands of
Jews were deported to death camps. "To remember this period is very, very difficult for
the Jews," Zana says. They think, "If they (did) it before, it's possible they will do it again."

French anti-Semitism helped spur the creation of Israel. As a journalist in Paris in 1894, Theodor Herzl reported on the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, an army officer falsely accused of treason mainly because he was Jewish. Two years later, the father of Zionism published The Jewish State. It said Jews could only be safe in a country of their own.

French Jews are among many who have taken advantage of Israel's law of return, which guarantees every Jew the right to become an Israeli citizen. French TV stations now share
the dial with Russian channels here. French language bookstores have opened in
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Now, real estate offices post door signs saying, "On Parle Français."

"Because of the political situation in France, I feel a real increase of interest from the French Jews to come here," says Mikael Azran, owner of Hamishkenote real estate here. He says business has soared in the past two years, with 80% of his French clients buying property as a hedge against worsening conditions at home.

Many French Jews buy small pieds-a-terre they can trade in for bigger homes if they decide to
immigrate here later. The buying spree has forced real estate prices to climb in areas favored
by the French: Jerusalem, Netanya north of Tel Aviv, the port city of Ashdod and the Red Sea
resort of Eilat.

"They buy for security," says Lev Stern, 59, as he browses magazines at Vice-Versa, the French
bookstore here. "It's like insurance."

Interest in the Jewish state can be gauged by the number of visitors. Nearly 200,000 French tourists came to Israel in the first nine months of 2004, a 74% jump over the same period last year. "Many want to feel closer to Israel," says Leon Rozenbaum, president of Unifan, a French immigrants association here. "They want to look at what could be a future in Israel."

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