National Post Barbara Kay: The Jewish exodus from France

National Post - Wednesday January 14th, 2015

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Armed soldiers patrol outside a school in the Jewish quarter of the Marais district on Tuesday in Paris.

Commenting on the kosher-market pogrom that followed the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, who seems a decent, sensitive fellow, and who has openly acknowledged the seething maelstrom of anti-Semitism in France’s “difficult neighbourhoods,” said: “The Jews of France are profoundly attached to France, but they need reassurance that they are welcome, that they are secure here.”



Forgive me if my eyes do not moisten at this fine sentiment. The time to reassure Jews came and went with the state funeral France accorded arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat in 2004. Another opportunity for reassurance came and went with the horrific torture-murder of Ilan Halimi, a Jew of Moroccan descent, in 2006 by a Muslim gang aptly named the “Barbarians.” The facts of that case were so revoltingly damning that even the normally equivocal French press had not the gall to spin it in their usual way as a random case of “violence between two communities” or “intergroup friction” — tropes of pernicious relativism, since Jew-on-Muslim violence has never existed in France.

The Halimi case did generate some honest soul-searching about anti-Semitism on television talk shows (the French are very good at talking), but soon, the situation returned to the status quo of violence against Jews that was ignored or ascribed, mendaciously, to anguish over Israeli settlement policies, even though perpetrators of the violence openly voiced Judeophobia pure and simple.

Mr. Valls also stated, “If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.” If he is correct, then the French Republic may already have failed. Last week Stephen Pollard, editor of England’s Jewish Chronicle, tweeted: “Every single French Jew I know has either left or is actively working out how to leave.” Mr. Pollard estimates about a 100,000 French Jews have emigrated in the last 18 months, mainly to Britain and Israel. An Israeli immigration agency reports half of France’s 500,000 Jews have made inquiries about resettlement. Last year 15,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel, more than the year before.

And some, doubtless with more to follow, have come to Canada.

York University sociology professor Rob Kenedy has made a group of 40 French families living in Montreal the subject of in-depth research. Kenedy’s subjects are Sephardic Jews, who have a very different history, both with Arab Muslims and with France, from that of Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews (the latter’s connection poignantly illustrated in a piece by Norman Lebrecht  in yesterday’s Post). These Sephardic Jews are the grandchildren of Jews from Algeria and Tunis. When those countries sloughed off French rule, they feared that the garden-variety Judeophobia they were accustomed to might burgeon under Arab rule. They chose France for reasons of collective safety. There, living beside their former Muslim neighbours, they integrated and prospered.

These newcomers are not economic migrants, Professor Kenedy emphasized in a telephone interview. They arrived with experience in small business, information technology and pharmaceuticals. Some are doctors and lawyers. They are sophisticated and refined, religiously observant, but culturally “more French than the French” (they are “excellent conversationalists”).

They left reluctantly and would love to go back, Professor Kenedy says. But they are afraid to. All have directly suffered or been affected by some form of overt Muslim anti-Semitism that has not been taken seriously by authorities, so they fear for their children’s futures. They were tired of removing their kippas on the metro, and seeing their synagogues guarded by men with Uzis. Arafat’s state funeral unnerved them, making clear who France had chosen to woo. Politically progressive, they feel strange supporting politicians (like Stephen Harper) on the right who “get it.” Some, stymied by Quebec red tape in re-establishing as professionals, plan to re-locate in less bureaucratic Toronto. Some will go on to Israel, where a few have already bought property.

So to recap: In the 1960s masses of Algerians arrived in France as de facto citizens. All these Semitic newcomers looked the same on the outside. Those in Group A kept faith with their religious traditions, but integrated peacefully, forming a bond of love with France and its culture, and becoming productive members of society. Increasingly victimized by hate-based violence from members of Group B, who had not integrated and were hostile to French culture, the grandchildren of Group A are reluctantly leaving France in order to live in countries where they can work, worship and socialize in safety.

Last Saturday, the Grand Synagogue of Paris was closed for the first time since the Second World War. Indeed, all the synagogues of Paris were closed. When they re-open, they will be even more heavily guarded than usual. Paris’s Grand Mosque has remained open throughout the turbulence. It has never needed unusual security, and doesn’t today.

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