France Was Supposed to Be a Safe Haven for Jews Fleeing North Africa Decades AgoPosted: January 15, 2015
French Jews Face Hate They Left Africa to Escape
PARIS — Yaroslav Trofimov, Ruth Bender and Jason Chow reporting: Every Friday, Johanna Bettach, a pregnant mother of two, stocks up on weekend supplies at the Hyper Cacher supermarket. Last week, just before she was getting ready to shop, an Islamist militant gunned down four Jewish customers at the kosher store and took many others hostage.
The Hyper Cacher attack, one of the deadliest against France’s Jewish community since World War II, spurred outrage across the country. It was by no means isolated, coming against a backdrop of acts of violence and intimidation.
Just three months earlier, Ms. Bettach said, she found her mezuzah—a box containing a parchment of Torah verses that religious Jews attach to their doors—torn off and thrown out.
“I wish to tell all French and European Jews: Israel is your home.”
— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“It is going from bad to worse in France, and we know that it is not going to stop,” said Ms. Bettach, 33 years old. “I can’t sleep at night anymore. All day when my kids are at school, I worry. I just don’t see any future for my children in this country.”
Three-quarters of France’s roughly half-million Jews are, like Ms. Bettach, of North African origin, Jewish community officials estimate. Their families moved to the safety of France mostly in the period between Israel’s creation in 1948 and Algeria’s independence in 1962, as persecution and discrimination emptied out the once-huge Jewish communities of former French possessions across the Mediterranean.
France has the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the U.S., according to most estimates. “We need to act,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Saturday as he paid homage to the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack. “France without Jews is no longer France.”
“They had come to the French Republic with the conviction that things would not happen that way again. Now, they have a feeling that they are reliving what they themselves or their parents had lived through already.”
— Elisabeth Schemla, a prominent French Jewish writer and editor
In 2013, the last full year for which data have been compiled, there were 423 reported anti-Semitic incidents in France, compared with 82 in 1999, according to the Jewish Community Security Service, a joint body created by France’s main Jewish organizations that compiles data based on police reports.
Much of the recent upsurge of anti-Semitic violence in France has occurred in rundown towns likes Sarcelles, a north Paris suburb where Jews of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian origin live alongside Muslim immigrants from the same countries.
While feelings of fear and distress run through the French Jewish community after the Hyper Cacher attack, they are particularly strong among those of North African origin, with their memories of forced exodus still raw.
“They had come to the French Republic with the conviction that things would not happen that way again,” said Elisabeth Schemla, a prominent French Jewish writer and magazine editor who moved from her native Algeria as a teenager in the 1960s. “Now, they have a feeling that they are reliving what they themselves or their parents had lived through already.”
Ms. Bettach said her sister moved to New York a decade ago and two of her husband’s brothers emigrated to Israel. On Sunday, two days after the Hyper Cacher attack, she began paperwork for moving to Israel.
“In Algeria, my father had to flee from one day to another because if he hadn’t left, he would have been killed,” said Ms. Bettach. “At least we still have time to prepare, to take our possessions with us.”
Some 6,900 French Jews moved to Israel in 2014, up from 3,300 in 2013, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, an Israeli organization that oversees the process. The number is expected to grow to 10,000 in 2015, the agency said. Many others are moving to Israel informally, or leaving France for the U.S., Britain and even Germany, Jewish community officials said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met French Jewish community representatives over the weekend, said Israel is preparing for increased immigration of Jews from France and other countries he said have been hit by anti-Semitism. “I wish to tell all French and European Jews: Israel is your home,” he said in Paris.
Anti-Semitic attacks occur elsewhere in Europe…. (read more)
—Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.
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