Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Around the Jewish World More Than One Quarter of Jews in France Want to Leave, Poll Finds

March 26, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

French Jews have grown so disgusted with anti-Semitism that more than one quarter of them are considering emigrating.

That’s according to a new survey of the 500,000-member French Jewish community, the second largest in the diaspora.

The poll was conducted by The Israel Project, which previously measured American attitudes about Jews and Israel in order to produce pro-Israel ads.

According to the poll, 26 percent of those surveyed said they have considered emigrating due to worsening French anti-Semitism.

Of them, 13 percent are “seriously” considering leaving, according to Washington pollster Stan Greenberg, who led the surveys and focus groups.

The mood among French Jews is like a “severe depression,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a founder of The Israel Project.

However, CRIF, the main umbrella organization for French Jewry, criticized the survey, saying American Jews simply do not understand the French community.

“U.S. Jews have a complex because they didn’t help the Jews of Europe during the Second World War,” CRIF spokeswoman Edith Lenczner said.

The poll “doesn’t anywhere near correspond with CRIF figures which were conducted with a far larger sample group,” she said.

The Israel Project survey was carried out among 493 French Jews between Nov. 29 and Dec. 18, and two 12-person focus groups on Oct. 22 and 23. It had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

The desire to leave France that it found coincides with a big jump in French Jewish perceptions of anti-Semitism, and in bitter experience.

Some 82 percent of respondents say anti-Semitism is a serious problem in France and 78 percent say it has deepened in the past few years.

Moreover, 38 percent of respondents say they personally have been the targets of anti-Semitic incidents, and 58 percent say they know friends or relatives who have been singled out.

Only 30 percent say they don’t know anyone who has experienced some form of anti-Semitism.

Most of those who are thinking of leaving — 64 percent — have been victims of anti-Semitism, whether physical attacks, verbal assaults or some other form of anti-Jewish behavior.

“They felt attacked by anti-Semitism — that could mean either verbally or some kind of pressure, not necessarily that they got beat over the head on the way to school,” Laszlo Mizrahi said. “But it’s like sexual harassment — if you feel it, you feel it.”

Anti-Semitism has grown so virulent in France that many observant Jews disguise the fact that they wear yarmulkes, she said.

In fact, religious and Sephardic Jews are more likely to have experienced anti-Semitism, and thus more likely to want to leave.

“As relatively recent immigrants, these Jews are less integrated into French society and have less confidence in French institutions than secular and Ashkenazi Jews,” Greenberg said in a memo summarizing his findings.

Yet most French Jews are staying put, with 64 percent maintaining they should stay and fight anti-Semitism and 21 percent saying they should ignore it.

Not surprisingly, those who want to leave are more pessimistic about possibilities for the future in France.

Of those who have thought seriously of leaving, 83 percent say they expect anti-Semitism to get worse.

Only 4 percent of French Jews see improvements on the horizon.

Fully 86 percent of those considering leaving are eyeing Israel, compared to 60 percent who would think of moving to the United States.

“It’s interesting that they consider Israel safer than France,” Laszlo Mizrahi said.

The Jewish Agency for Israel reported a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in inquiries about aliyah before France’s 2002 elections, which corresponded with a wave of anti-Semitic outbursts, many in reaction to Israeli military steps to quell the Palestinian intifada.

The French interior ministry reported 26 violent acts and 115 incidents of intimidation against Jews in 2001.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, was not surprised by the latest findings, saying that French Jews long have felt “under siege.”

Yet Foxman wasn’t particularly disturbed by the interest in leaving France.

“We shouldn’t view people contemplating aliyah as a negative in Jewish life, we should view it as a positive,” he said. “The fact that Jews want to go to Israel, that Jews feel safer in Israel, that’s what Israel’s all about.”

Most French Jews blame Islamic fundamentalism for the rise in anti-Semitism.

Overall, 78 percent of French Jews blame radical Muslim youth in France for spreading anti-Semitism, while 76 percent also blame Israeli policy toward the Palestinians for hardening French government policy and contributing to anti-Semitism.Sixty percent also point to the French themselves as culprits.

Recommended from JTA