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Jews Bid France Adieu

With anti-Semitism rising in France, more Jews consider emigration.

by Andrew Diamond

December 27, 2001 | 7:00 pm

An unidentified person inspects the damage done to about 60 grave sites in the Jewish cemetery in Dieuze, France. Photo by Damien Meyer/AFP

An unidentified person inspects the damage done to about 60 grave sites in the Jewish cemetery in Dieuze, France. Photo by Damien Meyer/AFP

With French Jews complaining about a rise in anti-Semitic violence, there appears to be a sharp increase in the number of people inquiring about immigrating to Israel.

After several years of declining aliyah (immigration to Israel) from France, the Jewish Agency for Israel has seen a 30 to 40 percent rise in inquiries this fall, according to Dov Puder, the director of its French office.

"It is too early to know how many immigrants we will have for the year 2001, but usually the fall is a down time for applications, and March and April are the busiest months," Puder explained. "This is why this year is remarkable."

According to the French publication Alyah Magazine, the Jewish Agency's French desk could expect between 2,000 and 3,000 olim every year through the late 1990s. That number fell to 1,950 in 1998 and 1,515 the following year.

Figures for 2000 are unavailable, but Puder claims there was an additional decline.

As of today, 1,150 French Jews have emigrated to Israel in 2001. The recent increase in inquiries will not make a statistical impact until next year.

Regardless of the numbers, the typical profile of the applicant has changed very little, Puder said. French aliyah candidates tend to be very religious, and predominantly families with children.

Yet Puder did note a change in the reasons people came to his office.

"They are motivated by the situation in France as much as the situation in Israel," he said, "but they are more concerned than in the past with the situation in France."

Puder was hesitant to call the new candidates "worried" by the recent anti-Semitism, suggesting merely that they are "bothered" by it.

Moreover, he claimed that many of those interviewed recently emphasized their children's education as a reason for moving to Israel.

The increase in potential emigrants coincides with a recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the Paris region and Marseilles.

As of Nov. 15, French police had recorded 26 violent acts and 115 incidents of intimidation against Jews in 2001, according to the Ministry of the Interior. CRIF, the umbrella organization of secular Jewish groups throughout France, claims the number is even higher.

The issue of anti-Semitism recently has become headline news in the French media, but many Jewish leaders feel the Socialist-led government has yet to take meaningful action.

Speaking at the annual CRIF dinner at the beginning of December, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin assured Jewish notables of "the determination of the government to fight against all forms of anti-Semitism."

Yet many in the community have grown disheartened that Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant -- the man most responsible for national law enforcement policy -- has continuously disputed the seriousness of the threats French Jews face on a daily basis.

Vaillant long has claimed that most anti-Semitic violence is carried out by Muslim youths from low-income neighborhoods, which few dispute. But Jewish leaders increasingly are concerned about the consequences of the anti-Semitic aggression.

Enrollment in Jewish schools has climbed over the past few years, a phenomenon that speaks to growing tensions between Muslim and Jewish youths. However, many middle-class Jewish families who share their neighborhoods with Maghrebins -- Muslims of North African descent -- are unable to afford the rising cost of private education.

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