Ten years ago then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged French Jews to move to Israel, noting that anti-Semitism was descending like a plague of locusts over French society. He was vilified by French Jews and the French Government. After the violent anti-Semitism that swept through France in the last twelve months, French Jews are finally listening. 2014 marked the first year ever in which France topped the list of countries of origin for immigrants to Israel, with nearly 7,000 new immigrants in 2014, double the 3,400 who came in 2013. Last year, nearly 3,300 Jews from France immigrated to Israel, a 63% jump in French aliyah (immigration to Israel) from 2012.
Overall, aliyah hit a ten-year high in 2014, with the arrival of some 26,500 new immigrants. This marks a 32% increase over last year’s number of approximately 20,000 immigrants, according to end-of-year figures released Wednesday by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption.
The Israeli government has taken steps to encourage French immigration, approving an initiative that includes a hefty boost in the amount of Israeli emissaries operating in France; a significant increase in the public relations campaigns targeting French Jewry, and the implementation of new procedures that will expedite the absorption process for French Jews.
Furthermore, the Israeli government is developing draft measures to recognize French diplomas and other qualifications.
“France is today the leading country for Jewish emigration to Israel. It has never been before,” said Ariel Kandel, head of the French office of the Jewish Agency for Israel, in September.
“Our lives have become absurd,” Nicole Yardeni, the head of the local branch of the CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France) umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said after last summer’s between Israel and Hamas ended. “We endure daily insults and get spat on, a general feeling of anxiety because a part of the population has a poisoned mind that makes it their mission to hurt Jews, regardless of Gaza.”
In July 2004 then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon caused a bit of an international incident when he told French Jews to move to Israel immediately to escape anti-Semitism:
He told a meeting of the American Jewish Association in Jerusalem that Jews around the world should relocate to Israel as early as possible.
But for those living in France, he added, moving was a “must” because of rising violence against Jews there.
France’s foreign ministry said it had asked Israel for an explanation of the “unacceptable comments”.
French Jewish leaders, interviewed on France-2 Television, said Mr Sharon’s remarks were unhelpful.
“These comments do not bring calm, peace and serenity that we all need,” said Patrick Gaubert, of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (Licra). “I think Mr Sharon would have done better tonight to have kept quiet.”
“It’s not up to him to decide for us,” said Theo Klein, honorary president of Crif, which represents French Jewish organisations.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said:
“2014 was a year of record-breaking aliyah. This year also saw a historic shift: For the first time in Israel’s history, the number of immigrants who came to Israel from the free world is greater than that of immigrants fleeing the countries in distress.
“This trend is evidence of Israel’s attractiveness as a place where it’s good to live, as well as of the success of our joint efforts to promote aliyah and strengthen connections between Jews around the world and the State of Israel.”
Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver said: “We expect that some 10,000 new immigrants will come from France alone next year, and we will surpass 30,000 immigrants from around the world – and even more.”
Cross-posted at The Lid