The Washington Post reports on a growing exodus of Jews from France. French Jews have lost faith that the French state can protect them from anti-Semitic violence committed by French Muslims. Excerpt:
The Jewish Agency, which encourages immigration to Israel, says the number of French Jews leaving for Israel each year had been steady at about 2,000 until 2013, when it hit 3,400. Last year, it jumped to more than 7,000 — making France the leading contributor of immigrants to Israel and marking the first time that more than 1 percent of a Western nation’s Jewish population has left for Israel in a single year, according to Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency.
Since the Hyper Cacher attack, calls to the Jewish Agency’s Paris office have more than tripled, Mayer said, and the agency is predicting that 15,000 French Jews will move to Israel in 2015.
Many others will choose to leave for the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and beyond.
At the kosher butcher’s shop two doors down from the still-shuttered Hyper Cacher one recent day, the talk focused on whether to go, and where.
“My husband’s ready, but not me,” a young woman picking up a chicken told the butcher. “I was in Tel Aviv in July, and I watched rockets fly into the sea. I wouldn’t feel safe there, either.”
The butcher, a 20-year-old named Aaron Sultan, said he and his fiancee are deciding where to start their life together and are leaning toward Israel.
“My parents left Tunisia during the Yom Kippur War [in 1973]. My mom tells the story that they fled for France when the Arabs were at their door, ready to kill them,” said Sultan, who wears a black kippah, or prayer cap, atop his close-cropped dark-brown hair.
Now he is preparing to flee France, but his parents are reluctant. “I’ve asked my mom, ‘Do we wait for the same thing here? Until the Arabs are at our door, ready to kill us?’ ” said Sultan, who spent the afternoon of the attack hiding on the shop floor as the crack of bullets pierced the air a few yards away. “It’s hard to leave, but when we don’t feel safe, we have no choice.”
Can you blame them? National Review‘s Charles C.W. Cooke reports from the suburbs of Paris:
Inside, the place is teeming with military personnel. Three soldiers stand outside the doorway, smoking Lucky Strikes and eyeing visitors. Another three patrol the hallway, bunching together near the entrance to the sanctuary. Upstairs, on the balcony that overlooks the bimah, the army has established a makeshift camp. By my count, there are ten troops up there — each one armed to the teeth. Lacking anything much to do, most of them are alternating between staring into space, scrawling letters home, playing at playing cards, and, occasionally, condescending to talk to one another. It is really quite surreal — as if there were a secret war on in Sarcelles and we had just stumbled upon its combatants. Downstairs, I open a door, hoping it’s a bathroom, and find another 30 or so men, busily preparing to relieve the current cast of their duties.
Talking to the captain, I establish that the synagogue is being used as their headquarters. As needs dictate, he explains, the soldiers are being “dispatched to the main targets”: namely, to the larger synagogue across the street, to the Jewish private school, and even to the preschool named after Anne Frank at the foot of the hill. “We are protecting the area in general. But this is the main target.”
The captain impresses upon me that the deployment is a direct response to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on Jewish people in Porte de Vincennes, and that this level of force is not typical. Looking around the town, however, one sees clearly that security was a grave concern in Sarcelles long before anybody heard the name “Kouachi.” The other synagogue — which also has a considerable military presence — is set back from the road, behind thick iron gates. To enter, visitors must first announce themselves to a remotely viewed camera and, if deemed acceptable, undergo a brief interview with a security guard. Similar rules are in force at the school, which is completely surrounded by a tall, spike-topped, steel fence and guarded by a patrolman in a wooden hut. The locals have seen this coming.
At the smaller of the two synagogues, Rabbi Max Bensoussan agrees to take my questions, welcoming me warmly into a cold, dark storage room that he describes wryly as his “office.” He and his congregation are “traumatized” by recent events, he says, but they are not surprised. During the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians last August, spontaneous anti-Jewish demonstrations broke out in Sarcelles — demonstrations that quickly turned violent. “This was not jihad as much as it was hatred of the Jews,” Bensoussan recalls. “Black Africans and North Africans who were not from this area brought steel bars to their protest. They set fire to cars and trash cans, and they smashed up Jewish-owned shops.”
By all accounts, it could have been a great deal worse. Indeed, the vandals — 200 or so men who openly sang “Slaughter the Jews” — were prevented from directly attacking the town’s main synagogue only by a team of volunteers who, along with a sprinkling of riot police, stood firm before the temple’s gates. Frustrated by the defenders, the mob eventually changed course, electing instead to firebomb a smaller synagogue in nearby Garges-lès-Gonesse. The physical damage was minimal. The psychic damage, however, was grievous.
“I understand why Benjamin Netanyahu wants French Jews to move to Israel,” Bensoussan concedes. “But I want to stay here and live as I want to live. I don’t want to be kicked out.” Usually, he says, the police protect Jews well. But lawmen cannot be everywhere at once and, occasionally, the criminals get their way. In general, he tells me, attacks “happen only from time to time. But in the subway they are daily —especially on those who are wearing a kippah or who are in traditional dress. That happens all the time.”
On paper, the French are even more committed to the establishment of a single national identity than are Americans. In France, statisticians are forbidden to collect information on race and ethnicity when taking the census, and, there being no official concept of “minorities,” there is no established concept of “minority rights,” either. This, the state claims, helps foster a uniquely “French” culture. In reality, however, France is now facing a set of serious domestic problems that America — which permits rampant hyphenation and frequently encodes racial categorization into the law — is evidently not. To what extent, one has to wonder, has it become French policy simply not to discuss what everybody knows is happening?
Which is to say that one cannot help but feel a little sorry for the flotsam and jetsam that has settled on the banks of les banlieues. Having been brought in during the “30 glorious years” that followed the end of World War II to work the jobs that the natives didn’t want, a whole raft of people are now stuck in a country that does not quite know what to do with them — and, for that matter, in which many are actively hostile toward them. Indeed, for all their talk of equality, the French are astonishingly racist when compared both with Europe in general and with the unusually tolerant Anglosphere, and they have shown no signs of actually adopting the sort of idea-driven “melting pot” approach that has made the United States so successful. As a rule, it is admirable and necessary for existing polities to insist that those who choose to join them adhere to their values and respect their laws. And yet, for the system of assimilation to work as intended, the natives must extend a warm welcome to the newcomers, and the education system must presume its new charges to be equals. As it stands, the question of what it means to be French remains worryingly open; immigrants still struggle considerably to find work and take part in mainstream national life; and the explicitly nativist National Front is hitting 30 percent in opinion polls. Despite this, France continues to import people from wildly different cultures and, more often than not, to funnel them into ghettos in which they become useless, or hopeless, or radicalized — and, occasionally, all three. Should we really be surprised that it’s not working?
After the Hyper Cacher killings, I complained in this space that the French state will not protect French Jews. Some of you said that was unfair, and I agreed, then withdrew the remark. Now I believe that the French state cannot protect Jewish citizens, no matter how hard it tries (and clearly it is trying). The threat is too big, too amorphous. If I were a Jew in France, it would be very hard to maintain hope that things are going to get better.