A new book called L’an prochain à Jérusalem? (“Next Year In Jerusalem?”) by the pollster Jérôme Fourquet and geographer Sylvain Manternach, argues that French Jewry is moving increasingly to the right at a time when the community is “living with a strong feeling of insecurity,” one year after the attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris that left four dead, and amid continued acts of anti-Semitism.
The book—based on a survey of 724 French Jews conducted by the polling company Ifop between June and August of 2015 for the Fondation Jean-Jaurès (which is affiliated with the Socialist Party)—is unusual in that France does not tend to poll on the basis of race or religion; after all, this would smack of tribalism and anti-republicanism. It was the first time Ifop has looked into the Jewish community’s religious, political, and social composition, following surveys about the Catholic and Arab-Muslim vote.
The Ifop survey titled “Enquête auprès des juifs de France” reveals a community, largely Sephardi (41%) but increasingly of mixed background (14%), in a comfortable economic and educational position overall, still sending their children to public schools (65%) and ahead of the country in terms of feeling at peace with their household income. At the same time, there is a widespread fear about security, and concern about the levels of anti-Jewish and indeed anti-Muslim feeling in French society.
Sixty-three percent of those polled reported being insulted for being Jewish, and more than half reported being subjected to anti-Semitic threats. Anti-Semitism is perceived to come from the far right and those of Muslim origin, although a majority of French Jews said that Muslims live peacefully in France, and that it is only the radicalized who constitute a menace.
The Jewish community as a whole is non-observant, but that may soon change. Two-thirds of French Jews see themselves as non-practicing, with a majority only observing the holidays of Yom Kippur and Pesach. But young Jews are far more likely to be practicing (53%) than those over the age of 65 (18%), just as they are far more likely to regularly wear a kippah. Sephardim, or those of mixed heritage, are more inclined to practice than Ashkenazim.
There is a religious divide between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in France, as well as a political one. While a majority of French Jews have confidence in the government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls, on the whole Sephardim are more inclined to sympathize with the right wing Republican Party, or to have voted for its leader, Nicolas Sarkozy, in the last presidential election. Ashkenazim, meanwhile, are more closely aligned with French President François Hollande, the centrist candidate François Bayrou, and the center party the Union of Democrats and Independents.
Overall, the politics of French Jewry are a little confused—in some respects liberal, in others more conservative. French Jews are roughly in line with the rest of the country when they agree that there are too many immigrants in France today, and are more likely (for obvious reasons) to feel unsafe, or say that the time is not right for the creation of a Palestinian state. At the same time, however, French Jews are ahead of the country in terms of believing that it is normal for gay and lesbian couples to marry and adopt children.
In closing, the survey addresses emigration. Fifty-nine percent of French Jews surveyed said that they had family who had left France in the past year, with Sephardim far more likely to leave for Israel than Canada or other English-speaking states. Of those who immigrated to Israel, the reason was by and large a feeling that they could not feel safe as a Jew in France, but also a wish to reunite with family already there. Those who chose Canada, the United States, and elsewhere were more likely to leave seeking better economic prospects.
Of the Jews who remain, 57 percent said they had thought of leaving—which is rather different from actually doing it, of course. While Israeli government estimates projected 15,000 Jews would make aliyah in 2015, only just over half that number did in the end. More than that, French Jews are slightly more likely to think of leaving for North America than Israel.
Liam Hoare is a freelance writer based in Vienna, where he is the Europe Editor for Moment and a frequent contributor to Tablet.