Sharansky: Jews uncomfortable in France despite government efforts to protect them

Marcy Oster

The chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, speaking to the press at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sept. 12, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90).

The chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, speaking to the media at his office in Jerusalem, Sept. 12, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90).

(JTA) — Revisiting what he defined as uncertainty over French Jewry’s future, Natan Sharansky said Jews are increasingly feeling uncomfortable in France despite the government’s best efforts to protect them.

Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, addressed the subject in a letter he sent Tuesday to his organization’s board of governors following its meeting last week in Paris. The event was held in the Paris capital for the first time as a sign of solidarity with French Jews following terrorist and anti-Semitic attacks on that community in the past few years.

His letter said media reports covering the event saying Sharansky believes the community has no future do not accurately capture the issue’s complexity.

“For several years now, I have been speaking and writing about the question mark that hovers over the future of the French Jewish community and of Jewish communities elsewhere in Europe,” Sharansky wrote. “The issue is complex, and I have always been careful to state that it is best represented by a question mark.”

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In the past two years, Israel has seen the arrival of a record 15,000 immigrants from France, which in 2014 for the first time emerged as Israel’s single largest provider of newcomers – a position it retained in 2015. Sharansky has attributed the influx to a convergence of factors, including France’s anti-Semitism problem, its near-stagnant economy and the strong attachment of French Jews to Israel.

Sharansky wrote that the French government has undertaken “sincere and laudable efforts to protect Jews, to strengthen the relationship between government authorities and the Jewish community, and to implement strong legislation against anti-Semitism.” This “great deal” of action, he added, perhaps exceeds action by “any other European government to reassure the country’s Jewish citizens.”

But the problem “far exceeds amelioration by one measure or another, and it cannot be solved by sending more soldiers to protect Jewish kindergartens,” he also said.

When it comes to French Jewry’s future, Sharansky wrote, “I am neither a commissar of Zionism nor a modern-day prophet, and it is important that our conversation on this subject be based on the facts, rather than on hollow pronouncements.”

Sharansky cited a recent survey commissioned by the Fondation Jean-Jaurès, a think tank with close ties to France’s ruling Socialist Party, that found that 51 percent of French Jews polled have considered immigrating to another country and 43 percent have considered making aliyah – immigrating to Israel under its law of return for Jews.

French Jews are feeling increasingly uncomfortable and insecure due a “changing demographic reality in France and the influx of large populations that do not necessarily share the French republic’s democratic values and are susceptible to anti-Semitism,” Sharansky wrote. “Another factor is that “liberal France, which Jews have always considered to be their home, is today infected by a sense of hostility and double standards toward Israel.”

As for the Jewish Agency, he said, “Our job is clear: To serve every French Jew who wishes to make aliyah” while “working to ensure that those Jews who wish to remain in France feel deeply connected to their community, their heritage, and the State of Israel.”

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