“The aliyah (the act of moving to Israel) of French Jews has been significant over the last decade, the tally for 2016 being 5000. The French Jewish community is the biggest in Europe and is thought to number around 500,000 people, most of them Sephardic and of North African origin. This is the second-largest population outside of Israel and the United States. The 5,000 departures in 2016 add to the record 7,900 who left in 2015 and 7,231 in 2014. The Jewish Agency of Israel stated that that insecurity had been a “catalyst” for many Jews who were already thinking of leaving Though violence is not the only reason people are leaving, with family, religious and economic reasons also playing a role, yet one can’t deny the panic these recent horrific attacks in 2016 France have unleashed, biggest among them were the Bataclan attacks and the 14th july 2016 attack where a terrorist mowed down nearly 80 people with a truck.
(The ongoing Jewish exodus from France, in 2 charts)
In total, 40,000 French Jews have emigrated since 2006, according to figures seen by AFP.
However, it has been observed that a significant number of Jews who migrate, do choose to return eventually. The number of those who return has been estimated to be around 10 to 35 percent. Its hardly surprising because they cannot take the much harder life in Israel in comparison to the relatively comfortable life in European countries.
Jewish people have a nearly two millennia old history in France, of running businesses and participating in public life as early as the first century when Paris was part of the Roman empire, and it has seen ups and downs of extreme ends, including everything, be it exploitation, welcome, abuse, glorification and deportation. France, like its European neighbours has a rich history of anti-semitism, whether it be in middle ages or modern times. On 22 July, 1306 King Philip IV of France expelled all Jews from his kingdom, the main reason being that he wanted to seize the property of Jews to get the resources for funding with the Flemish and the currency revaluation problem. They had to leave behind their belongings and had to leave the country only with the clothes they were wearing and a small sum of money. Any Jew found after the deadline was liable to be executed.
Confiscating Jewish property and their expulsion was a normal event in medieval times, as were in effect already the king’s property. Just a few decades earlier, in 1290, Jews living in England were expelled by King Edward I, many of them had moved to France.
Unfortunately for them, France proved only a slight respite. Earlier, the Lateran Council of 1215 summoned by Pope Innocent III banned coexistence or working / trading between Jews and Christians. Jews were banned from all trades except pawn broking and mending old clothes. They had to wear a special garment to differentiate them from Christians. This applied throughout the Christian world wherever canon law was followed (This was the yellow star of David that the Jews had to wear in the Nazi occupied areas). They acted as tax collectors for the king but this role was gradually taken over by Italian bankers. So by the beginning of the 14th century they were no longer indispensable to the crown. Jews had been expelled from France in 1182 by an earlier King Philip and regularly throughout the 13th century but within a few years they were allowed back. The auctioning of the Jews property was still happening at the time of King Philip’s death. His son Louis , who succeeded him, allowed the Jews back in 1315. However by 1322 the Jews were banished once more. This pattern of expulsion and return would continue for decades. It concluded with the expulsion of 1394. This is regarded as the last exodus from France in the medieval period. Jews returned as France expanded to the areas to which they were banished.
Inspite of this, France in the last two centuries has a much better record in tolerance in comparison to Spain, Germany, Hungary or Poland among others. By the 19th century, though resentment remained toward Jewish people, many Jewish citizens had risen to top business, military and political positions — something that was nearly impossible in many European countries. In contrast, in Germany till 1800s, Jews had virtually no citizenship rights. In Tsarist Russia, and eastern Europe , regular pogroms against Jews were regular fare. In comparison, France had a Jewsih Prime Minister , Léon Blum, who served three terms during the 1930s, and later as a vice premier in late 1940s.
Incidently speaking, the birth of Zionism was not at all inspired by Nazi atrocities. Its origins are a few decades earlier, during the Dreyfus case (1894-1906) in which Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian and Jewish descent was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. He was imprisoned for nearly five years, before being exonerated. Theodore Herzl, one of the founding fathers of Zionism, witnessed crowds in Paris chant “Death to Jews” , calling for Capt Dreyfus’s head, and it was one of the turning points for promoting Palestine as a migration point to the Jewsih community worldwide. In 1895, Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), which argued that the Jewish people should leave Europe if they wished to, either for Argentina or, preferably, for Palestine, their historic homeland. During the second world war , the Vichy government which was a Nazi collaborator, rounded up and executed thousands of jews. A quarter of the historic Ashkenazi Jewish population in France died in the Holocaust of World War II.
During the last thirty years or so, the problem has resurfaced, and in a much more threatening way, owing to a mass immigration from Muslim countries into EU countries and also the rapidly falling birth rates among western European nations. The majority population of Europe has been hit bad due to this, and hence the other minorities cannot be expected to fare any better.
The Gayssot Act or Gayssot Law enacted on 13 July 1990, makes it an offense in France to question the existence or size of the category of crimes against humanity as defined in the London Charter of 1945, on the basis of which Nazi leaders were convicted by the Nuremberg Trails of 1946. It is one of several European laws prohibiting Holocaust denial. But attacks on Jews have risen by sevenfold since then 1990s and 40% of all hate crimes in 2013 were committed against Jews, according to a study conducted by the European Jewish Congress and Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Historically numerous North African Arabs had lived and worked in France since before World War II, having emigrated to France for economic reasons and to escape civil wars in their home nations. The Muslim community built the Grand Mosque in Paris in 1929. Its Imam and numerous members helped protect Jews from deportation during the Holocaust. This sounds unbelievable in today’s rapidly declining scenario of Muslim-Jewish relations. At least 1 in 10 Jews in France have been physically assaulted for their religious identity, according to a survey in Journal de Dimanche . Jews are less than 1% of the French population, and they have become an even smaller minority due to an influx of predominantly Muslim refugees and immigrants in various ghettos and housing projects in various cities, from the former French colonies of Algeria, Morocco over the years, and now the Syrian refugees .
This sort of renewed jihad fuelled anti Semitism is not just limited to France (Paris alone has more than 200 plus no go zones) but also all over western Europe.
British historian Maud S. Mandel in her book Jews and Muslims in France: A History of a Conflict (2014) states that Muslim antisemitism among second-generation immigrants in France is more prominent than the one preceding them, due to various factors which lie in earlier inter-communal relations among the peoples in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco following their life as a colony of France and the decolonization in North Africa; and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and most prominently the extremism funded by petrodollars. Many other historians downplay this anti semitism and instead state that it is a part of racism, much to the displeasure of the Jewish community.
It’s naïve to assume that anti-Semitism began and ended with the rise and fall of the third reich. Anti Semitism has existed ever since Christianity and Islam branched out of the same semitic tradition where Judaism comes from. These three people of the book have hated each other since centuries. Nazis merely borrowed elements from the various church and royal dictats centuries before. Anti Semitism has its real roots in the earliest Christians regarding jews as ‘’Christ killers’’, and it is a fact that Jews were not given any kind of rights in any Christian or Islamic kingdom. They had been tolerated, because of their material usefulness, but never accepted. Not just anti Semitism, most of the other Nazi trademarks were rip offs. Nazi salute was a straight lift off of the Roman one, the swastika emblem was a mutilated version of the Hindu swastika, the racial profiling of Jews by having them wear the star of David or regular pogroms against them were similar to what the Jews endured in medieval Europe. In case of exterminating Jews, SS firing squads were just an upgrade of planned jewish extermination by various kings. Concentration camps were first used by British during the Anglo Boer war of 1899 (In which Mr Gandhi served proudly as a stretcher bearer). Even the idea of gas chamber wasn’t original. Protestantism founder Martin Luther advocated Jewish homes and synagogues should be destroyed, their money confiscated, and liberty curtailed and that they should be locked inside a building and burnt. All that the Nazis did was replace fire with Zyklon B. Vatican too did nothing to condemn the mass killings of Jews, Gypsies, central Asians and Russians during WW II.
Holocaust happened only because the local populace in the occupied territories had anti semitic tendencies, be it Poland or Hungary or Lithuania or Ukraine. Most of the Jew killing was done with the help of the collaborators in occupied territories, whether it be mass shootings or deportation to death camps like Auschwitz .
Jews today face an enemy far greater than Nazism, and which has roots of over a millennium and a half, simply because unlike Nazism or Communism, it does not have a single power centre. Nazism finished with the fall of the Third Reich, and Communism suffered a fatal blow with the disintegration of Soviet Union. But jihad has no single base. A Chechen, a Morrocan, a Pakistani, A Palestinian (whatever that means) or any other Arab has the same kind of hatred for the Jews. Israel is a great example that there is no other way than taking violence to your enemies. The European Jews who died in mass executions and gas chambers during WW II were intellectuals, unlike their counterparts in Palestine, who lived on little and fought hard for every inch of land. It is them who did much of the fighting (joined by the other jewish settlers, most prominently the eastern European jews) throughout the early 1900s to create a base where the future Israel could form in 1948 But one cannot live by history alone. No matter how much bravely Israel has fought, it is still a fragile state, and Jews outside it are as vulnerable as they were during Kristallnacht or second world war.