France No Longer a Home for Jews Fleeing Persecution
The Jews of France are reeling. It’s been a month that they would rather forget. Although all European Jewish communities have been affected, the French community has seen a larger spike in violence than most since the Gaza war began. Earlier this month, eight synagogues were attacked in a week.
Jews in France no longer feel secure. Four times as many Jews as last year are leaving the country for Israel. Newsweek‘s lead story is “Exodus: They’re Fleeing Once Again.”
Anti-Semitic attacks in Europe have been on the rise for some time, culminating in the murders of Sebastien Selam and Ilan Halimi; the Toulouse massacre of three Jewish children and a rabbi; and the gunning down of four people at the Brussels Jewish museum by a French jihadi returning from Syria. All these atrocities have shaken the 500,000-strong community to the core.
On July 13, Jews narrowly escaped a pogrom as an angry mob of pro-Palestinian supporters funnelled down the rue de la Roquette in Paris. The JDL (Jewish Defence League) improvised a line of defence until police reinforcements arrived. Some media accused the vigilantes of provoking the violence, but their actions probably saved Jewish worshippers barricaded inside a synagogue from being lynched.
A week later, a rampaging mob of 400 threw firebombs at a synagogue, a pharmacy, and a kosher butcher in Sarcelles – a suburb of Paris where North African Jews and Muslims live cheek by jowl.
And French Jews, who mostly hail from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, are also experiencing a sense of deja-vu. Bernard Abouaf, a journalist of Tunisian-Jewish descent who witnessed the Rue de la Roquette riot, wrote on his Facebook page that the whole scene looked like a re-enactment of the storming and torching of the Great Synagogue in Tunis during the Six-Day War in 1967: a traumatic event that accelerated the flight of Tunisian Jews to France or to Israel.
France also served as an escape route for Jews in Algeria after violent outbursts there, such as the Constantine pogrom – 80 years ago this week, when nearly 30 Jews were murdered. Mind you, this was long before the creation of the State of Israel – proving that anti-Jewish persecution in the Muslim world is not linked solely to the Jewish State. And in 1962, when Algeria gained its independence after a bloody war, Jews understood that they were not welcome. The community of 160,000 Jews fled – lock, stock, and barrel – to France.
Now it looks like France gave these Jewish refugees just a temporary respite from persecution. For the second time in a generation, Jews are moving on.