09 January '15..
The least surprising thing about today’s turn of events in Paris is that Jews are the target. Because when it comes to home grown anti-Semitism, France leads the world.
A survey last year from the European Jewish Congress and Tel Aviv University found that France had more violent anti-semitic incidents in 2013 than any other country in the world. Jews were the target of 40 per cent of all racist crimes in France in 2013 – even though they comprise less than 1 per cent of the population. Attacks on Jews have risen sevenfold since the 1990s.
No wonder Jewish emigration from France is accelerating. From being the largest Jewish community in the EU at the start of this decade, with a population of around 500,000, it is expected by Jewish community leaders to have fallen to 400,000 within a few years. That figure is thought by some to be too optimistic. Anecdotally, every French Jew I know has either already left or is working out how to leave.
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik who is now chair of the Jewish Agency Chairman, said last year that 2,254 French Jews moved to Israel during the first five months of 2014, against only 580 in all of 2013. That is a staggering 289 per cent increase, but in recent months the figure is thought to have increased exponentially.
The number expected to leave this year for Israel was estimated at over 10,000 – and that was before today’s events. And that is just to Israel. Many are coming to Britain as part of the wider French exodus under President Hollande.
David Tibi, the then leader of Paris’s main Jewish umbrella group, left last July. As he told the Jewish Chronicle: “There is an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in the streets. My daughter was attacked in the tramway, so was my son. The aggressors made anti-semitic comments and pushed them around. We no longer have a place in France.”
The Jewish school shooting in Toulouse in 2012, in which four people were murdered at point blank range by a French-born jihadist trained in the Middle East; the growing support for Marine Le Pen’s National Front; and the mass popularity of anti-Semitic public figures such as comedian Dieudonné, are all part of the undercurrent of anti-Semitism that frames French life. And more recently synagogues have firebombed and Jewish areas attacked by mobs.
Almost of all these attacks have been carried out by Muslims.
Andrew Hussey, an author and expert on French Muslim affairs, says: “anti-Semitism is a fundamental part of French history and culture in a very damaging way. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the petite bourgeoisie felt under threat from the Catholic Church and socialist movements. They turned to the Jews to blame them for every fault in French society, which culminated in the Dreyfus Affair.” That is now part of a toxic mix with more recent expressions of Muslim anti-Semitism.
Joel Mergui, the chairman of Consistoire, the National Union of French Synagogues, puts the effect starkly: “You can feel the bite at every level. At some synagogues, whole benches are suddenly empty.”
Stephen Pollard is editor of the Jewish Chronicle