Paris Attacks Shed Light on Aliyah in Good Times and Bad
JNS.org – Thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to express a type of grief they know all too well, following the murderous terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Israeli interior minister told the French ambassador, “Israel stands by you and we will help you. We will defeat those who want to destroy our values.” Israel sent its condolences as French flags were being installed in the city centers all throughout Israel.
At Rabin Square, where the solidarity rally was held, chants of “Vive la liberté” rang out, and the French national anthem was sung as if the rally were in Paris itself. Especially poignant was the attendance.
Half of the crowd were Israeli-born. They came to support France with more solidarity than you can imagine, with first-person knowledge of the trauma caused by terrorist attacks.
The other half of the crowd were French (and other European citizens) who live in Israel. A large percentage of these people made aliyah to Israel precisely because of antisemitism in Europe and fear of attacks. After the huge wave of North African immigration to France, attacks against Jewish people have skyrocketed, also increasing Jewish emigration out of France and into Israel, the Jewish state that is perceived as the safe haven for Jewish people. Since the beginning of the year, more than 6,000 French Jews have immigrated to the country that is roughly the size of New Jersey. And just three days after the attacks, another 60 French Jews made aliyah to Israel together.
As a fellow recent immigrant to Israel, I can understand the pull to the only Jewish state in the world. Yet I cannot understand the daily fear that many French people feel in their own country. I was motivated to make aliyah for positive reasons, and it was difficult to leave my comfortable life in America. But the reality for many of the French people who make aliyah is different. They are motivated by negative reasons — to escape the unstable conditions for Jews back home.
I came to ulpan hoping I would hear from the young French people positive reasons for making aliyah. Unfortunately, they reported mostly negative motivations for making aliyah — that they are scared to identify as a Jew in France, that many of them can only dream of walking in Paris wearing a kippah in plain sight.
At my ulpan, the director made his rounds to every classroom on the Sunday following the attacks. He expressed his deep sorrow for the deadly attacks and checked in with the many French students who still have family in Paris. He stated that there are so many French people in Israel that French might as well be Israel’s second language. And with the high percentage of French students in Israel and in our ulpan, the attacks have hit very close to home.
I’ve gotten a sense in Israel that with this great tragedy also comes the hope that it will be the wake-up call that spurs the international community into action against Islamic State terrorism.
Another consideration that Israelis express is the question of why the world does not place as much importance on the Islamic terrorism that Israel faces every day. There are indeed fewer casualties in attacks against Israel compared to the massacre in France, most likely because of the strong security Israel has maintained — a trend that has been developed precisely because terrorism against Israeli citizens is a daily threat. But why does it take a mass attack in a European city for the world to mobilize? What about the attacks in Israel, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and the many other places that have been attacked by Islamic State terrorists? Can it be that the only lives that matter are white, Anglo-Saxon and Christian?
Many people ask me what I think about French people making aliyah out of fear. People make aliyah for many reasons and I don’t believe it is my place to judge. I believe that both negative and positive forces make the experience for all immigrants to Israel more informed. It exposes us to the diversity of experiences of Jews around the world, and I think that strengthens the Jewish community. I hope that some day there are only positive motivations for aliyah. But until then, I stand in solidarity with France, with those who have made aliyah from France, and with the many others who have suffered at the hands of Islamic State and Islamic terrorism.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.