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French Jews Nervous in Wake of Paris Kosher Market Attack, Rising Anti-Semitism

France will deploy nearly 5,000 troops to guard Jewish sites across the country, but for some, the enhanced security only reinforces the climate of fear.
Photo by Jacques Brinon/AP

Nearly half of the 10,000 police and soldiers France will deploy around the country in the wake of last week's attacks in Paris will be sent to protect Jewish schools and places of worship. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced the measure as troops search for potential accomplices of the gunman who shot dead four Jews in a kosher supermarket as customers stocked up on goods ahead of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.


But for many French Jews, the enhanced security only serves to reinforce the climate of fear in which they now live.

France is home to Europe's largest Jewish community — around half a million Jews live there — but a rising tide of anti-Semitism has already driven thousands to leave. In 2014, the French topped the list of nationalities making aliyah [the Hebrew term for immigration to Israel] for the first time since 1948, beating even war-torn Ukraine for the number of Jews seeking to emigrate.

The mass departure of 6,600 Jews from France in one year — nearly double the amount in 2013 — follows a dramatic rise in hate crime against the community. In December last year, the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, admitted anti-Semitic attacks and threats had more than doubled over the last ten months and promised to make the issue a "national cause."

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Cazeneuve's pledge came after a particularly horrific anti-Semitic attack in the Parisian suburb of Créteil, where a young Jewish couple were robbed and the woman raped by armed assailants who broke into their home and claimed to target them because: "You Jews have money."

In July, during the height of the Gaza war, Crif, an umbrella group for France's Jewish organizations, reported that eight synagogues were attacked within days of each other. One synagogue was firebombed in a Parisian suburb, while that same week, crowds attacked a kosher supermarket and pharmacy as they chanted: "Death to the Jews" and "Slit Jews throats." Earlier in May, a French national with links to the Islamic State opened fire in the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, killing four people.


"All this combined shows that anti-Semitism is rising in France," Yossi Mekelberg, a Middle East analyst with the UK think-tank Chatham House, told VICE News. "There has always been anti-Semitism in France, this is not new; but now there is a new slant to do with radical Islam, and this is really causing fear."

Paris Gun Attack (Dispatch One). Watch video here

The recent spike in anti-Jewish sentiment is not unique to France. Other European countries have also seen a rise in hate crime against Jews. Attacks on synagogues in Germany and the Netherlands have also increased.

"Bold and brutal anti-Semitism has shown its ugly face [in Europe] again," German politician and former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at an international conference on anti-Semitism in November.

But Mekelberg says that the situation in France, home to both Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish communities, is particularly toxic.

"[There is an] urgent need to integrate Muslim communities into French society. The problem in France arises from failed multiculturalism," he said. "Angry young people that mix a lot of things call it 'Islam' and see Jews as the enemy."

According to a recent Israeli Finance Ministry survey, French Jews accounted for 29 percent of all home purchases by foreigners in the first ten months of 2014. Now, after the kosher supermarket attacks, that number is expected to rise further. On Sunday, Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency that promotes emigration to Israel, predicted as many as 10,000 new French arrivals in 2015.


"A lot of French Jews have bought property in Israel, this is a direct result of the anti-Semitism," Mekelberg told VICE News. "Many still live in France but they bought it because they feared a rainy day, and now that rainy day has come."

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Magali, who did not want to reveal her surname, is a 35 year-old mother of one. Like many European Jews, she has mixed heritage, with several of her relatives hailing from the former Soviet states. Magali was born in Belgium and her husband in France, but now the family has been considering moving again from their home in Paris for a "few years," either to the United States or Hong Kong, because of growing anti-Semitic sentiment in France.

"I feel it is no longer safe for Jews to live in Europe," she told VICE News. "I want to live somewhere with a strong commitment to communities living with each other in a strong, friendly non-confrontational way."

Magali, who works in the fashion industry, says that some areas of Paris, particularly the suburbs, have long been loaded with tension, and the situation is getting worse.

"Now, after this attack, I don't even feel safe walking in Le Marais [Paris' Jewish quarter]," she said. "I feel anxious to go to a kosher supermarket. I feel anxious to go to a synagogue. I shouldn't feel like that."

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that Jews seeking to leave "countries in Europe that are suffering terrible anti-Semitism" would be welcomed with "open arms."


"To all the Jews of France, to all the Jews of Europe I would like to say… Israel is your home," Netanyahu said in a televised address shortly before flying to Paris for a unity rally Sunday.

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But the message to French Jews to pack-up, shut-up shop and move to Israel has not gone down well in all quarters. In a biting response to Netanyahu's comments, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Head of the European Jewish Association, said that politicians must, "Cease with this Pavlovian response every time Jews are attacked… Every such Israeli campaign severely weakens and damages [Europe's] Jewish communities that have right to live securely wherever they are.

French politicians, too, have urged Jews to stay. "If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged as a failure," Valls said as he visited the Paris kosher supermarket to pay his respects after the attack.

For French Jews, many of whom have lived in France for several generations, the decision to leave will not be made lightly. Among the 3.7 million attending Sunday's peace rally in Paris were hundreds of Jews holding signs reading: "Je suis Juif. Je suis Charlie" ["I am Jewish. I am Charlie"]

"For my husband it would be very difficult to leave France, the country where he was born, and for me too," Magali said. "The idea of leaving a country where liberty, freedom and security are meant to be core values… I want to honor the memory of our grandparents but I want to make the right decision for my children."

"It's complicated, I want them to grow up with the same sense of freedom I enjoyed," she said.

On Sunday, Netanyahu paid a visit to Paris' Grand Synagogue — currently held under heavy security — and was met with loud cheers and applause from the crowd, which later broke into an emotionally charged and spontaneous rendition of La Marseillaise — the French national anthem. The poignant scene shows there are undoubtedly difficult decisions ahead for French Jews.

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem