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Exodus to the UK as French Jews escape antisemitism

The Chief Rabbi: ‘Jews in Europe have begun to ask, is there still a place for us here?’

    Members of the French Jewish community soon after the Toulouse attacks
    Members of the French Jewish community soon after the Toulouse attacks

    The number of French Jews crossing the Channel to find safe haven in the UK has surged as figures published this week revealed a 58 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents in France in 2012.

    Last week, the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, warned that "the position of Jews in Europe today is very difficult. There are threats at this moment to brit mila and shechita, and Jews in Europe have begun to ask, is there a place for us here?"

    That warning follows a sharp rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in France after the murder of four Jews in Toulouse in March 2012. In the subsequent 10 days, 90 separate incidents were reported, over five times the average rate.

    St John's Wood Synagogue in London has set up a separate French minyan, attended regularly by 120 people on Shabbat. The congregation's rabbi, Mordechai Fhima, originally from Paris, said: "Every Shabbat there are new faces. My congregants tell me that here they can practise as a Jew more openly."

    The statistics from the French equivalent of the Community Security Trust, the SPCJ, show an increase in antisemitic incidents from 389 in 2011 to 614 in 2012. But although the numbers are similar to those in the UK, incidents in France are far more likely to involve violence.

    58% Increase in antisemitic incidents in France in 2012

    In 2012 there were 102 violent attacks in France and 69 in the UK. One in four attacks in France involved a weapon.

    It was originally stated that in over three-quarters of the antisemitic incidents the perpetrators were reported as being of North African origin, however the SPCJ has now removed this statement from their report.

    Richard Prasquier, president of Crif, the French Jewish communal organisation, said the figures "degrade the image of France" and should be "at the heart of the national political debate".

    Mr Pras-quier warned last month at Crif's annual conference that "resurgent antisemitism could endanger the presence of Jews in France".

    Sandra Dahan Elbase, 29, left Paris for the UK in 2011 and now lives in Cambridge with her French husband. She said: "In Paris I would never wear a Magen David walking around, I was even afraid to read a book in Hebrew on the Metro. There was a climate of fear.

    "My family are also thinking about leaving because of the antisemitism," she said.

    One man, who did not wish to be named, said he had renounced his French citizenship and become a British citizen because of antisemitism. He said: "Because the French elect their leader directly, this encourages populist statements. Politicians pour hot oil on the flames of public racism."

    Rabbi Fhima explained that the numbers of those moving mean there is now a strong French Jewish communal life in the UK, with communities concentrated around the French school in South Kensington and in St John's Wood.

    "Once a month we bring a French-speaking rabbi over to give a talk and I do a gemarah lesson every Monday night in French."

    He said: "I'm not afraid to walk down the street in Paris, but I definitely feel more secure here."

    According to a survey conducted last March by The Israel Project, more than a quarter of the half-million strong French Jewish community had grown so disgusted with antisemitism that they were considering emigrating.

    Washington pollster Stan Greenberg, who oversaw the surveys and focus groups, said that of the 26 per cent who were considering emigrating, 13 per cent were "seriously" considering leaving.

    The survey came on the heels of the Toulouse attack. Since the murders, antisemitic incidents have escalated in France. On one occasion, the chief rabbi of Lyons received a letter showing harrowing images of Jewish children being marched to a Second World War death camp, together with a death threat against him.

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