With French emigration to Israel up 63 per cent last year, Hebrew-language schools echo with the sound of French and French-accented Hebrew. And one of the first phrases the new arrivals pick up is “antisemitism”.
Most of them need this for the icebreaker discussion in which students explain why they relocated. During a mid-morning break at Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek Ulpan, Odelia Afowecz says that she lived in a desirable neighbourhood close to the Eiffel Tower, but “even there” felt antisemitism.
“I don’t want to be in France — there’s a lot of antisemitism in the street, on the trains, and elsewhere,” said the 60-year-old lawyer.
Another Parisian, Marie Pol, a 50-year-old doctor, said: “I loved Paris but in the end the mentality I prefer is here.” She elaborated: “Lots of French are coming because of the bad context in France — there’s rising antisemitism and Jews don’t feel good there.”
She said that the socialist policies of President Francois Hollande are also giving French Jews economic reasons to make aliyah.
In Netanyahu, a stronghold of French-Israelis, Odatan Yasminiski reported mixed feelings about the influx. She has been helping new arrivals to acclimatise for almost four decades. “It feels good and not good,” she said, explaining that while she is always happy to see immigration, she has two main concerns.
“Many arrive without professions and don’t know what to do here,” she said. And she felt while French people who moved to Israel decades ago did make great efforts to integrate, there is not always the same determination to do so today. “I don’t like it so much when they stay in French circles,” she said of today’s newcomers.
PRO-ISRAEL RALLY IN PARIS
Partly in response to the vicious antisemitism on display at the demonstration against President Francois Hollande the previous Sunday, the French Jewish community held a pro-Israel rally in central Paris last weekend. The event, which attracted an estimated 15,000 demonstrators, was funded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), the Israeli Foreign, Defence, Tourism, Agriculture and Immigrant Absorption ministries and other donors. Titled “Israel Today and Tomorrow”, the rally was the brainchild of the JNF’s chief emissary in France, Reuven Naamat, and drew Jewish community leaders from across France. Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon said at the rally: “Before the European diplomats lecture us on how to conduct ourselves in our historic homeland, they should first focus on ending the age-old bigotry of antisemitism in their own backyards.”