French parents are increasingly sending their children to Jewish schools because of concern over antisemitism, according to the head of the country’s Jewish representative council.
Roger Cukierman, president of Crif — the representative council of Jewish institutions — said: “Many parents are sending their children to Jewish schools and other private schools and not to public schools, as it used to be in my youth.”
But despite high levels of anxiety about antisemitism and a significant increase in aliyah this year, he emphasised the community’s resilience.
Along with Hungary, Jews in France exhibited the highest levels of anxiety about antisemitism within Europe in last month’s EU survey: 85 per cent of French Jews, for example, thought antisemitism a “big” or “fairly big” problem, compared with 48 per cent in the UK.
In the past nine months, aliyah from France was nearly 50 per cent up on the comparative figure for the previous year.
Mr Cukierman — who was visiting London for a Crif meeting on Sunday with leaders of the Board of Deputies — acknowledged that the French Jews felt “isolated and worried”.
He observed that “the proportion of racist attacks that are antisemitic is at a very high level of over 50 per cent — which is more and more difficult to bear”.
On the one hand, French Jews were troubled by the rise of the right-wing Front National “because we see this party will play an important part in French politics”.
While it was not violent and its leader Marine Le Pen did not express antisemitic views, he said, “we know that behind her there are antisemites, people who deny the Holocaust”.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, he explained, the extreme left had gained traction with its boycott campaign against Israel — even though boycotts are illegal in French law.
Violent attacks on Jews by young Muslims had also contributed to the anxiety.
Mr Cukierman also voiced concern about the growing investment in French companies by Qatar, which has supported the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly in Egypt. “We fear some day they may wake up and try to influence the French government,” he said.
But the significance of aliyah, he said, had been “exaggerated”. Even it were to reach an annual 3,000, that would represent “only half a per cent of the French Jewish population. It’s a very low figure in absolute terms.”
France’s difficult economic situation had also persuaded some of its citizens to move abroad, he noted, including some to London.
Despite the problems, he said, “we have had five French prime ministers of Jewish origin… So I think Jews will remain in France and there is some aliyah, but the figures are not so big.”