The imperiled condition of French Jewry, at this point, is pretty well-trod territory. That said, one’s shock at a statistic like the 58 percent rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France last year, may not diminish.
A few weeks ago, an article chronicled the growth of a French Jewish community in the United Kingdom. To accommodate the influx, St. John’s Wood Synagogue in London started hosting French-language Shabbat services. Here’s one about the French Jews arriving in Israel at a rate of 2,000 per year.
Earlier this week, La Stampa revealed a similar expansion of French Jews in the Upper West Side of New York.
To understand what’s happening, we have to go to the Jewish Centre on 86th Street where, in March 2012, the Jewish New Yorkers urged their French counterparts to commemorate the victims of the shooting in the “Ozar Hatorah” school in Toulouse, where the jihadist Mohammed Merah killed a rabbi and three children.
Leading the ceremony was Zachary, 29, a transport manager from Strasbourg. “If New York is full of French Jews- he explains- it’s because in 2002, in connection with the second Palestinian Intifada, a season of physical aggression began towards us from the Arabs that still hasn’t stopped. It just brought the conflict from the Middle East onto our streets.”
From the sounds of it, the ferment of French Jewry’s plight has been a full decade in coming and not just a few years as it’s been assumed. It’s stunning to remember the way that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon–at the height of the Second Intifada no less–infamously instructed French Jews to move to Israel for their own safety. His remarks were blasted by French leaders–both Jewish and not–including the French foreign ministry, who called on Sharon for an explanation of his “unacceptable comments.”
It’s manifested itself not just in terrorist attacks, arson, assaults, or acts like the planting of a fake bomb near the Hillel Center in Lyon earlier this week, but in language as well. For each incident of anti-Semitic graffiti, consider several thousand or more digital analogues. Writing in Tablet today, Jillian Scheinfeld outlined an actual, popular trend of anti-Semitic hate speech on Twitter.
Last October, when the hashtag #UnBonJuif reached the top three on Twitter’s trending topics list in France, a French Jewish student group, the Union of French Jewish Students, complained directly to the San Francisco-based social networking giant asking for the names of Twitter users promoting the anti-Semitic hashtag. When Twitter failed to respond, the students took their case to a French court—and won.
A court order may ultimately impel Twitter to police its users more thoroughly, but even if that accomplishment is managed, there’s still a whole world offline and in the dark.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.