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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

French Jews Face Hate They Left Africa to Escape - France Was Supposed to Be a Safe Haven for Jews Fleeing North Africa Decades Ago

From The Wall Street Journal:

Three-quarters of France’s roughly half-million Jews are . . . of North African origin, Jewish community officials estimate. Their families moved to the safety of France mostly in the period between Israel’s creation in 1948 and Algeria’s independence in 1962, as persecution and discrimination emptied out the once-huge Jewish communities of former French possessions across the Mediterranean.

France has the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the U.S., according to most estimates. “We need to act,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Saturday as he paid homage to the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack. “France without Jews is no longer France.”

In 2013, the last full year for which data have been compiled, there were 423 reported anti-Semitic incidents in France, compared with 82 in 1999, according to the Jewish Community Security Service, a joint body created by France’s main Jewish organizations that compiles data based on police reports.

Much of the recent upsurge of anti-Semitic violence in France has occurred in rundown towns likes Sarcelles, a north Paris suburb where Jews of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian origin live alongside Muslim immigrants from the same countries.

While feelings of fear and distress run through the French Jewish community after the Hyper Cacher attack, they are particularly strong among those of North African origin, with their memories of forced exodus still raw.

“They had come to the French Republic with the conviction that things would not happen that way again,” said Elisabeth Schemla, a prominent French Jewish writer and magazine editor who moved from her native Algeria as a teenager in the 1960s. “Now, they have a feeling that they are reliving what they themselves or their parents had lived through already.”

Some 6,900 French Jews moved to Israel in 2014, up from 3,300 in 2013, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, an Israeli organization that oversees the process. The number is expected to grow to 10,000 in 2015, the agency said. Many others are moving to Israel informally, or leaving France for the U.S., Britain and even Germany, Jewish community officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met French Jewish community representatives over the weekend, said Israel is preparing for increased immigration of Jews from France and other countries he said have been hit by anti-Semitism. “I wish to tell all French and European Jews: Israel is your home,” he said in Paris.

“Even if the French are against anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic attacks don’t provoke the same display of emotion due to their repetition, it gets trivialized,” said Maurice Lévy, chief executive of French advertising company Publicis Groupe SA . “We have to fight against this trivialization.”

At the end of the 18th century, revolutionary France removed Medieval restrictions against its Jews and led the push to give equal rights to long-oppressed Jewish communities across the continent. Many of its Jews prided themselves on assimilating into the mainstream. A Jewish prime minister governed France in the years before the outbreak of World War II.

About a quarter of France’s prewar Jewish population of around 300,000 perished in the Holocaust, killed by the Nazis and their French collaborators, according to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and research center in Jerusalem.

Then, the numbers started growing again, thanks to the postwar influx from North Africa. These newcomers from North Africa were often more religious than France’s established Jewish communities, sparking a boom in the creation of Jewish schools, kosher restaurants and places of worship—turning France into the center of Jewish life in Europe.

Over the past decade, however, the country’s Jews increasingly began feeling threats from a new direction—targeted by Muslim militants angered by Israel’s actions in the Middle East.

The burned pharmacy’s owner, René Banon, who was raised in Algeria, has reopened in temporary premises elsewhere in the Sarcelles mall. “In Algeria, anti-Semitism was soft,” the 68-year-old said. “It’s worse in France today—an anti-Semitism that’s so fierce that it kills. People were saying, ‘Attack the Jews! Burn them!’ I never thought it would happen here.”

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