Lew: French Jews want to stay in France


WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Jews of France are committed to remaining in their country, U.S. Treasury secretary Jacob Lew said after meeting with the community’s leadership in Paris.

“What I heard was a real desire to stay in France and have France be a place where they felt safe,” Lew told reporters from the Jewish media in a conference call Tuesday from Poland, where he attended a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Lew’s remarks came in the context of controversy over an appeal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have French Jews immigrate to Israel after an Islamist terrorist attack this month on a kosher supermarket in Paris left four dead. Aliyah has risen from France in recent years, and French political leaders have appealed to the country’s Jews to remain.

Lew did not mention Netanyahu’s appeal in the conference call, but said his conversation Monday with the Jewish leaders revealed a resolve to stick it out in France. Among those he met with were the president of the Union of Jewish Communities of France, Dr. Joel Mergui, and the chief rabbi, Haim Korsia.

“It was a combination of deep mourning over the losses they had, but also deep convictions over the importance of values they believe in in France and we believe in in the United States,” he said.

Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Israel, in a speech Sunday defended Netanyahu’s visit to France after the attack and his appeal to French Jews.

“I am proud that my prime minister made clear to all French Jews that while they have the right to be protected in France, they will be welcomed with open arms in Israel,” Dermer said in Florida at an Israel Bonds gala.

Lew, the most senior Jewish member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, led the U.S. delegation to the Auschwitz commemorations. Obama, in a statement marking the anniversary, drew parallels to the Paris attacks.

“The recent terrorist attacks in Paris serve as a painful reminder of our obligation to condemn and combat rising anti-Semitism in all its forms, including the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust,” he said.

Lisa Monaco, the assistant to Obama for counterterrorism, met Wednesday with French officials to discuss enhancing U.S.-French cooperation in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

A number of Cabinet officials and lawmakers from both parties also issued statements commemorating the Auschwitz anniversary. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the top members of the House Middle East subcommittee, introduced a nonbinding resolution marking the anniversary and also noting the Paris attack.

Recommended from JTA