Antisemitism Forcing ‘Internal Exodus’ of French Jews, as Concern Over Islamist Agitation Rises Across Europe
French-Jewish families are moving in growing numbers out of suburban neighborhoods of Paris because of antisemitism encountered on a daily basis, a local French newspaper reported on Thursday, amid broader concern across the continent that anti-Jewish hostility among Muslim communities continues to go unchecked.
In a special report, the Paris edition of commuter newspaper 20 minutes described an “internal exodus” during 2017 of Jews from the Seine-Saint-Denis department, on the northeastern fringe of Paris, to other neighborhoods in and around the city, in the hope of escaping the antisemitism rife among their more numerous Muslim neighbors.
“This ‘internal exodus’ is difficult to quantify, but it is clear that many synagogues of Seine-Saint-Denis have closed, for lack of people,” the paper wrote. “In Pierrefitte, the rabbi has recorded a 50 percent decline in the congregations since his arrival thirteen years ago. A similar story is told in (nearby) Bondy, where attendance on Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the Jewish calendar) has fallen from about 800 to 400 in the last decade.”
The paper quoted the president of the Bondy synagogue describing the “deteriorating climate” of the last fifteen years. “It’s hard to explain, it’s provocations, it’s looks,” he explained. “There are places where we do not feel welcome.”
One Jewish family that has now decided to leave the Seine-Saint-Denis department were the subjects of a vicious robbery last September, by a gang who targeted them based on the stereotype that all Jews are “rich” — a trend first seen with the kidnapping for ransom and subsequent murder of a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, in 2006.
Speaking to 20 minutes, Roger Pinto — a Sephardic community leader in Livry-Gargan who was tied up and beaten along with his wife and son by three assailants on September 8 — disclosed that he and his wife were now selling their home. Pinto admitted that he had hesitated at first, “because it would mean that they won,” but added, “we have to admit that we do not feel safe.” Their home, he said, had become a reminder of the family’s ordeal.
The paper also included pseudonymous accounts of the harrowing experiences of local Jews. “Sophie,” her husband and three children left their home “in a hurry” in June, after discovering the words “Jew” and “Israel” along with a Star of David had been scratched onto their car with a screwdriver. A few weeks earlier, the family home had been robbed. “I feel like I am starting my life from scratch, we have nothing left,” “Sophie” told the paper. “But was the insecurity we lived with.”
Another interviewee, “André,” recalled why he moved out of the department in 2015, when his apartment was ransacked twice. On the second occasion, he found the words “Dirty Jew” and “Long Live Palestine” scrawled on the wall of his living room. After forty years in their neighborhood, “André” and his wife decided they had no choice but to leave.
Sammy Ghozlan, the president of the Jewish communal security organization BNCVA, told the paper that it was vital “not to underestimate the antisemitism we experience on a daily basis.”
“For a long time, Jews were targeted through their symbols — today, people themselves are targeted directly,” Ghozlan said.
The latest revelations about the environment faced by Jews in parts of Paris come in the wake of several angry demonstrations by Islamist groups elsewhere in Europe over the last week.
On Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lovren declared that “there is no place for antisemitism in our society,” days after after pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the city of Malmo chanted “Slaughter the Jews,” while a Hanukkah celebration at a synagogue in Gothenburg was attacked by a gang throwing Molotov cocktails. Similar condemnation has been heard from political leaders in Germany, after demonstrators burned Israeli flags at a number of rallies.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde on Thursday, the mayor of a Berlin district where an Israeli flag was burned during a protest said that the “Middle East conflict” was all consuming.
“The conflict is imported directly into the apartments via the internet or television,” Franziska Giffey — the Social Democrat mayor of the Neukölln district — said. “It’s a subject even in schoolyards.”
Meanwhile, one of Germany’s leading journalists emphasized in an opinion piece that the burning of the Israeli flag was “utterly unacceptable” in Germany, comparing it to anti-democratic slogans “like ‘Foreigners out!'”
“Germany is responsible for the murder of at least 6 million Jews during the Holocaust,” Ines Pohl — editor-in-chief of the country’s DW broadcaster — wrote. “And no matter how much time has passed since, Germany will always have a unique obligation to fight anti-Semitism.”
Pohl continued: “This is why burning the Israeli flag in Germany is utterly unacceptable. Those who have come to Germany seeking safety and a new place to call home must abide by this fact. There are fundamental values in German society that are non-negotiable.”