A Welcome and Warning to French Jews
This year’s figures for immigration to Israel from France are not yet in, as such statistics are not calculated according to the Hebrew calendar. But around 3,000 French Jews made aliyah during this summer alone.
In 2014, a total of 7,000 French Jews relocated to the Jewish state, with many of whom saying they felt safer in Israel even with rockets raining down from Gaza during Operation Protective Edge than they did in France. Violent anti-Zionist demonstrations in their neighborhoods, they said, were far more menacing than the instructions they received upon arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport on how to make it to a shelter at the sound of an air raid siren.
By the end of 2015, which kicked off in Paris with the Charlie Hebdo massacre and Hyper Cacher murders, the numbers are likely to be equally high.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu flew to the mass “unity rally” in the French capital in January in the wake of the above events, he was first criticized for attending at all, and then lambasted at home and abroad for reminding European Jews that they always have a home in Israel.
Apparently, it is not seemly for the leader of the Jewish state publicly to acknowledge the rise in both blatant and “dinner-table” anti-Semitism; it is certainly rude of him to offer refuge to its targets.
But the Jews of France did not need Netanyahu to tell them what they already knew: that the country in which they were born and raised was becoming a hostile environment. And they preferred to leave while still in one piece.
It turns out, however, that antisemitism isn’t the only reason Jews feel stifled in France. Many say that policies of the French government have made it hard for them to realize their potential, and view the “startup nation” as a far better place for their creativity and potential high-tech ventures. Their exodus, then, is characterized by “pull” as much as “push.”
This Jewish brain drain has the French government panicked. Throughout history, whenever Jews exit an area en masse, it declines.
To counter this worrisome phenomenon, French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron was dispatched to Israel this week to woo back his country’s Jews.
“A lot of these people have energy, vitality,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “They want to create jobs, startups, and innovate here. They can innovate as well in France.”
To persuade the expatriates who are now happily settled in Israel, where French can be heard spoken along the beaches of Tel Aviv and the streets of Jerusalem, Macron listed the tax incentives and other measures his ministry was going to implement.
To assuage fears about antisemitism back home, he assured parents at a French high school in Tel Aviv that thousands of police would now be protecting synagogues and other Jewish venues in France.
It is doubtful Macron’s tactics will work. Nor should they.
In the first place, where were all these moves to keep French Jews safe and sound before they began leaving their homes for their homeland?
Secondly, Macron’s trip to Israel included a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where the French minister reiterated his country’s position “against BDS” but wholeheartedly in favor of labeling Israeli goods manufactured in the territories beyond the 1967 borders.
Abbas did not set him straight about the PA’s real concern, the existence of the State of Israel in its entirety, which this Palestinian leader saves for his conversations in Arabic.
Nor is it likely Macron would have listened, even if Abbas had made this clear. After all, nobody was paying attention to the Palestinian employees at the Israeli SodaStream factory in Mishor Adumim (in the “West Bank”), who have just been robbed of their livelihoods as a result of BDS pressure. SodaStream has now relocated to the Negev.
French Jews should be wary of this new campaign to court them, not be lulled by the seduction of a government that wants them back for selfish reasons, but not enough to reject their enemies’ campaign to delegitimize Israel. It is the height of “l’hypocrisie.”
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based author and journalist. This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.