In the wake of last week’s massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris and the deadly siege on a kosher supermarket in the French capital, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged the Jews of France to move to Israel. “The State of Israel is not just the place to which you turn in prayer,” Netanyahu said over the weekend as he headed to France for a commemoration at Paris’ Grand Synagogue and the city’s unity rally. “The State of Israel is also your home. This week, a special team of ministers will convene to advance steps to increase immigration from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism.”
The call for aliyah was controversial, and prompted a host of reactions. “The Israeli government must stop this Pavlovian response every time there is an attack against Jews in Europe,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, said in response.
Still, for French Jews, the situation is understandably frightening. The murder of four Jewish men at the Hyper Cacher supermarket capped off a troubling year of anti-Semitism, violence, and incitement. In a report for the New York Times, Dan Bilefsky writes that many French Jews say “the trauma of the terrorist attacks last week has left them scared, angry, unsure of their future in France and increasingly willing to consider conflict-torn Israel as a safer refuge.”
French leaders, fearing the consequences of an exodus of Jews from France, have issued robust expressions of support. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Saturday that “France without Jews is not France.” President François Hollande, wearing a skullcap, joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at a commemoration event at the Grand Synagogue of Paris on Sunday. He had already deplored the attack as a horrific act of anti-Semitism.
But Jewish residents said the new security measures were not enough to restore frayed nerves. Some said they were already planning to pack their bags for Israel, urged on by Mr. Netanyahu, who told French Jews on Sunday that they would be welcomed with “open arms.”
More than 7,000 Franch Jews moved to Israel in 2014, more than double the previous year’s figure. It’s likely that the Paris terror attacks will prompt more to do so in the coming weeks and months. Yet as the moving scene at the Grand Synagogue of Paris on Sunday illustrates, the reality of French Jewishness is unique and complex. The massive crowd of French Jews at the synagogue cheered loudly for Netanyahu after largely ignoring Hollande’s own entrance moments earlier, and then, after Netanyahu’s speech ended, immediately broke into a moving, impromptu rendition of the French national anthem.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.