Reflections on Jewish Life in France

I just returned from Paris with the Jewish Agency For Israel, an Israeli national agency, to get a firsthand account of what life is like today for the Jews of France. Unfortunately, the new strain of antisemitism and the influx of radical Islamists have made it dangerous for French Jews.

Antisemitism in France today is incredibly high, extremely violent and home-grown.   The French organization Service de Protection de la Communaute’ Juive (Jewish Community Security Service) recently published a report titled “Report On Antisemitism In France in 2015.” This Report found that 808 antisemitic acts committed in France in 2015 led to the filing of a complaint. This Report also found that Jews, whose population of approximately 500,000 represents less than 1% of the total French population, were the target in 2015 of 40% of all racist crimes in France and of 49% of racist violent acts.

Synagogues and Jewish schools resemble armed fortresses guarded by French military. Jews are advised not to wear in public any articles or clothing that would identify them as Jews and not to speak Hebrew or use Hebrew words. Some Jews in France are trying to hide their Jewishness for fear of harassment, insults or worse.

I was told repeatedly in Paris that it was dangerous for Jews in France and I should be careful while walking on the streets of Paris. In fact, at the beginning of a private tour of a neighborhood in the northern part of Paris, my Jewish guide checked me to make sure I did not have any articles or clothing that would indicate I was Jewish.

While the French government opposes this virulent antisemitism, life in France today has returned to the life during the 1930’s for Jews in Germany.   I met many Jews who are considering whether to leave France or are in the process of leaving France, with many going to Israel (over 20,000 during the period 2012 to 2015 and an estimated 6,000 in 2016).

The question today for French Jews is whether they can live freely as Jews in France.

This toxic situation does not stop with Jews. The French people and their freedoms are also threatened by the changing circumstances in France. I attended meetings where the speakers stated that even non-Jewish French people either are leaving or are thinking about leaving France. They do not feel safe.

What is occurring today in France is utterly impossible to comprehend. France is being transformed.

Charles D. Pulman

July 2016