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French Jewish leader: Majority of Jews too afraid to put kids in public school

BRUSSELS (JTA) — Most French Jewish parents enroll their children in private schools because of anti-Semitism, a leader of France’s Jewish community said.

Anti-Semitism “affects Jewish families very seriously and is the main reason there are so few Jewish children in public schools,” Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said Tuesday during a symposium on anti-Semitism at the European Parliament. “Most of them go to Jewish or Christian private schools.”

Cukierman spoke at a symposium organized by the European Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith International with European lawmakers on the findings of a recent survey undertaken last year by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency among  5,847 self-identified Jews from nine European countries.

French Jews emerged from the survey as most concerned by anti-Semitism, with 85 percent of 1,137 respondents from France describing it as a “big problem.” Among British respondents, 48 percent answered similarly.

Perceptions of increasing anti-Semitism over the past five years were most widespread among French Jews, with 74 percent of respondents saying it has “increased a lot” compared to 27 percent in Britain. Among French respondents, 46 percent said they have considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism compared to 18 percent in Sweden, Latvia and Britain.

“Jews do not feel comfortable in France and across Europe,” Cukierman said. “Top-down attempts to ban circumcision and kosher slaughter compound the effect of bottom-up anti-Semitism.”

Yet French Jews are not leaving France in large numbers, according to Cukierman, who downplayed the significance of figures that show a 49 percent increase in Jewish immigration from France to Israel in the first nine months of 2013 compared to the same time frame last year.

“These figures fluctuate between 1,500 and 3000 every year, and at their highest represent half a percent of French Jewry. So this is not such a big figure,” he said.

Also present at the panel was David Baddiel, a British comedian and campaigner against anti-Semitism in British soccer matches. Several speakers said his efforts are an example of effective grass-roots action.

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