Anti-Semitism appears to be rearing its head across Europe yet again. The perpetrators of the recent terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen both targeted Jews, at least in part. Reports of anti-Semitic incidents have risen in the U.K. as well as in France, where the most European Jews live. Hours after the attack in Copenhagen, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces an election on March 17, announced a package of $46 million to help Jews in Europe emigrate to Israel, and urged them to make the move.
As a whole, the Jewish population in Europe has been in decline for the past seven decades, but last year more Jews left France for Israel than ever before, according to the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental Israeli organization that facilitates the process. As Avi Mayer, spokesperson for the agency, put it, “Every single young Jewish person I spoke to [on a recent trip to France] told me they were planning on leaving France, and an overwhelming majority said they wanted to come to Israel. Which was really pretty shocking to me.”
We caught up with five European Jews to get their thoughts on the recent attacks, whether they’ve considered moving to Israel, and anti-Semitism on the continent.
Esther Benbassa, French Green Party senator from the Paris suburb of Val-de-Marne and professor of modern Jewish history at the Sorbonne.
What is the situation facing Jews in Europe today?
All of us, we are facing terrorism. Anti-Semitism. In France, we have, now, since January, a genuine problem of terrorism … For the Jews, it’s also very difficult, because these radical religious people are taught on anti-Semitism and so on. Since 2000, the second Intifada, the anti-Semitism began in Muslim and Arab countries but [is now present] among French people, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because Jewish institutions in France support openly the politics of Netanyahu. [On February 15] Netanyahu asked French people to come to Israel. [Former Israel prime minister Ariel] Sharon did it also, some years ago, at the time of the Intifada. He asked French Jews to come to Israel.
Why did Netanyahu do that?
He’s doing his politics. Elections will be held on the 23rd of March, and he’s showing himself as the hero of the demography of Israel, because he’s asking Jews to come to Israel, and Jews are going to Israel, are leaving France. We have problems, of course, but we are first of all French Jews. And France is our country. The Danish Jews, when Netanyahu asked them to come to Israel, they said no, our country is Denmark. But our French institutions are not like that. [The French] support Israel. Because French Jews are originated from North Africa and they have many problems with … their past in Muslim lands. The Danish, they don’t have this problem. Also in France, the French Jews are living in the suburbs where Muslim people are living. We have 600,000 Jews and 5 million Arabs, Muslims or not. This is mainly the problem. Among these populations coming from Arab countries — Muslim people — they support Palestinian people … It’s a very complicated situation.
Does that mean that, right now, France isn’t safe for Jews?
Oh no … you think that Jews are safer in Israel? Are you sure? They are safer than in France? … I can understand Canada, the United States, but not Israel. You can be attacked by a bomb every day in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem.
You studied in Israel. Do you ever think of moving back permanently?
No, I left Israel because I came to France to continue my studies at the university. I feel, myself, French, I am a professor at the Sorbonne, I am a French senator, I am from French culture, I grew up among French culture in Istanbul, in Turkey. I am very attached to France. I will not leave. Of course, I go to Israel one, two, three times a year. I have a big family there, but I am a French citizen. And I will resist. I will stay in France and I will resist against anti-Semitism. We have to resist, and we have to not leave. Israel has no jobs for 300,000 French people. Israel is not able to find jobs for these people. Old people going to Israel, I can understand that, they can live easier in Israel with their French pension. But for the young people, it’s not a solution. And the religious people, who want to move to Israel so they can do their religious studies and live in harmony with their religious sentiments, they can go to Israel, okay, no problem. But to leave because of anti-Semitism is not to resist. France is our country and we’ll resist.
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