French Exodus: 'When Jews Flee, a Nation is Sick'

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PARIS -- In the suburbs of Paris, a Jewish family gathers to read the Torah. But soon they will be gone. They're part of a growing number of French Jews and leaving their country because the future simply looks too dangerous.

In January, demonstrators in Paris shouted, "We don't want Jews" and gave the Nazi salute. It was chilling reminder of France's World War II past when Jews were deported to concentration camps.

Before the war, European Jews waited too long to leave and ended up trapped. French Jews don't want to make the same mistake again.

'Time to Leave'

CBN News interviewed a French family under the condition that they not be identified because they fear a backlash from French society.

In a few months the family will leave for Israel. They told us they preferred to go while they could leave on their terms instead of someday having to flee for their lives.

"We are not really afraid, but seeing the murders last year in Toulouse and what happened at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, we are afraid for our children and what could happen to them, and we think about it every day," the father told CBN News.

The mother of the Jewish family has already been called a "dirty Jew" by the neighbors. She has instructed her daughter to slip her Star of David inside her blouse when she goes outside, and has told her sons to be careful about where they wear their kippahs, or yarmulkes.

"They have worn the kippahs since they were very young, but over the past few years I have told them maybe it's better not to wear it sometimes," the mother said.

"There's a strong feeling inside the French community that it's time to leave," Philippe Karsenty, Jewish deputy mayor of Neuilly, said. "You can't have a dinner a conversation with a Jew without having the topic mentioned. Should we stay or should we leave?"

There are only 400,000 Jews in France and they're outnumbered by Arabs and Muslims by perhaps 15 to 1 or more. French law prohibits identifying citizens by ethnic background.

There have been close to 8,000 anti-Semitic incidents in France since 2000 - and each time Israel acts in self-defense against the Palestinians, the danger increases. 

French Muslims have staged large and more violent demonstrations, including one a few weeks ago in which 200 Jews were trapped inside a synagogue.

An 'Unbearable' Threat

Rabbi Michaël Azoulay, the head of CRIF, France's national Jewish association, said the threat to Jews has become "unbearable."

At a synagogue near Paris, Rabbi Azoulay told CBN News the number of Jews coming to him for a certificate of Jewishness to go to Israel has increased dramatically in the past year.

"It started around last July," he said. "We have many requests from families ... not just from the community of Neuilly, but other communities in Paris, who came to us and requested certificates for the Jewish Agency in the aim to possibly go to Israel."

It's estimated that as many as 5,000 Jews could leave France this year. The exodus of the Jews is a disaster for the French government, which keeps condemning the anti-Semitic attacks but can't stop them.

Dr. Richard Prasquier, former president of France's national Jewish association, emphasized that France is not an anti-Semitic country.

"I do not accept the fact that France is an anti-Semitic country. France is not anti-Semitic country. This government and the previous government did not have anti-Semitic ideas," he said.

The French father we interviewed said he believes the government is doing what it can.

"But it's difficult to do more because the problem is so overwhelming. It cannot stop all the anti-Semitic incidents in society," he added.

Anti-Semitic Media

French Jews seem to all agree that the French media is guilty of encouraging hatred of Jews by its one-sided reporting of the Middle East conflict and almost daily vilification of Israel.

"I think that the major responsibility bears on the media's shoulder because the media has been inciting hate against Israel for more than a decade," Karsenty said. "Every time when you watch TV or you listen to the radio or you read newspapers you always feel hate messages against Israel."

Prasquier agreed.

"There is the feeling that Jews are fed up with the image of Israel that is continuously repeating itself in the media," he said.

Not all French Jews are in danger, and not all who are leaving France are doing so because of anti-Semitism. Some are leaving because of the bad economy.

But three out of four Jews say they are thinking about leaving, and 95 percent say they are worried about anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Azoulay said Jews are "concerned now that the government will not be able to set things right, to stop the attacks. And that worries me."

Perfect Storm

French Jews now face a perfect storm, with a war in Gaza, growing numbers of French Muslims, a bad economy, and the growing popularity of the far right National Front.

"Jews are being insulted and threatened not only by Muslims, but also by members of the far right and from leftists who hate Israel," the Jewish father told CBN News.

The Jewish family is looking forward to a life free of anti-Semitism in Israel.

"We will breathe for freely in Israel and I will be happy to see my children will be able to live more freely as Jews there," the mother said.

French leaders know that when Jews have to leave, it means a nation is sick.

"Jews are a litmus test of what's going on," Prasquier said. "It's not only Jews who will leave the country. It's not only France who will go down the drain, it's not only Europe, it's the entire Western world, including the United States."

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Dale Hurd

Dale Hurd

CBN News Sr. Reporter

A CBN News veteran, Dale Hurd has reported extensively from Western Europe, as well as China, Russia, and Central and South America.  Since 9/11, Dale has reported in depth on various aspects of the global war on terror in the United States and Europe.  Follow Dale on Twitter @HurdontheWeb and "like" him at Facebook.com/DaleHurdNews.