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France’s Jewish exodus—to Britain

In the wake of the Paris attacks, thousands of French Jews are fleeing—not to Israel, but to Britain


 
Rob Stothard/Getty Images

Rob Stothard/Getty Images

The return of widespread anti-Semitism has become an old story in modern Europe. For a couple of years now, there have been reports of sharp rises in anti-Jewish protests and attacks in countries as culturally varied as Hungary, Belgium, Germany, Greece and France. Gallons of ink have been spilled in recent years chronicling the “new exodus” of Europe’s Jewry to safer cultural ground­—mostly to Israel.

But in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent Jewish supermarket attack in Paris, France has come under particular international scrutiny for its incidents of religious hatred. Because of this, many of France’s Jews are leaving for safer shores and a large number are crossing the English Channel to Britain.

Precise numbers are difficult to come by because of porous EU borders, but, last week, the Jewish Chronicle reported that as many as 6,000 French Jews were planning emigrate to the U.K. in the aftermath of the recent attacks. And the Times reported that, of the estimated 20,000 French Jews in Britain, between 4,000 and 5,000 had arrived in the past two years.

In London, Jewish community leaders say the influx is palpable. The St. John’s Wood synagogue in north London has set up a separate French-language congregational service that is now regularly attended by more than 100 people each week. French voices can be heard all over London, particularly in South Kensington, where many French immigrants—Jewish, Muslim and Christian alike—have chosen to settle. And while many French Jews will have come to London to enjoy the opportunities of the economic recovery, some are undoubtedly there because of the rise of anti-Semitism in their homeland.

The Jewish Journal published a study that found a 58 per cent rise in anti-Jewish attacks in France as long ago as 2012. Last summer, during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, hundreds of Parisian protesters repeatedly attacked two separate synagogues with bricks and firebombs. Newsweek compared the attacks to a scene “out to the pogroms of czarist Russia” or Europe in the 1930s. Others said it was like the intifada (the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation) come to France. It was a disturbing spectre of religious violence, and one that made France’s established Jewish population sit up and take note.

Regine de Frettes, 55, a French Jewish IT business owner, came to work in Britain as an au pair 30 years ago and ended up marrying and settling in Britain. Today, she says her extended family, who all remain based in Paris, are, for the first time, seriously considering leaving France. “My elderly parents are devastated that, twice in their lifetime, they should see this level of anti-Jewish feeling, but they are too old to move. But my younger cousins in their 30s and 40s are all planning to leave for either Britain or America. They don’t want to leave, because they feel completely French, but they just don’t feel safe anymore.”

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Daniel, a 42-year-old French financier, moved his wife and two small children to London 18 months ago after he was offered a job at a major bank. He asked that only his first name be used, as he didn’t want his British colleagues to know he’d suffered prejudice in Paris. “It’s not something one likes to talk about but, yes, it’s definitely there,” he said of the anti-Jewish sentiment in France. “There were many reasons to move my family to London, but I’m sad to say that was one of the them.”

De Frettes describes how, on a recent trip to Paris for her niece’s bat mitzvah, her relatives advised her family not to hang around on the synagogue steps before or after the service, and warned her husband not to wear his yarmulke on the street for his own safety. Her niece, she says, has already had to change schools because of religious bullying.

A 2012 study found that more than half of Jewish people in France had come to believe that anti-Semitism had become “a very big problem” in their country—a figure that’s undoubtedly much higher today. Comparatively, only 11 per cent of British Jews felt the same.

But recent numbers show this might be changing. Two reports published last week by Britain’s campaign against anti-Semitism warned that more than half of British Jews had considered emigrating themselves, and almost half of Britons held at least one anti-Semitic opinion. The findings were drawn from a YouGov survey of 3,400 Britons that found 25 per cent agreed with the sentence: “Jews chase money more than other British people,” and 20 per cent believe Jews are less loyal to Britain.

But de Frettes, who peacefully practises her religion in a small town in Berkshire, insists that, in contrast to her Parisian family, she has never experienced anti-Semitism in Britain. “I feel it’s a very tolerant and peaceful place to live.” As for her French relatives planning to join her, she says they are making their arrangements and should be arriving in the coming months. “My only hope,” she says, “is that they don’t leave it too late.”


 

France’s Jewish exodus—to Britain

  1. After reading this article, one has to fees extreme sadness. The people who contribute the most to mankind in terms of science and technology, and who have no interest in harming other nations, has to deal with this nonsense.

    Canada should have an open door policy for all Jews. My name is not Jackie, and I am a Muslim, who has nothing but respect for all Jews.

    • We are all the same species….culture makes any differences there are, and culture can be changed.

      Orthodox Jews are as bad as the Taliban.

      • Really Komarade E1 I’ve never heard of them cutting heads off…and as regards to Israel not having any jobs I’m sure they can handle the overflow not like the Arab countries on assimilating the Palestine’s who they bar from EVERYTHING……..

          • I just have to laugh at how you dismiss so many arguments that comes your way that are against your views with some rubbish, and most of the time, nasty comments. You come across as someone who preaches tolerance, yet your comments to fellow posters are anything but tolerant.

            Even though I am completely on the other side of the political and world view divide from you (however, we have agreed in the past on some things), I actually don’t think that you are as crabby as you appear on line. From some of your comments I can see that you have morals, and are definitely educated, so I just fail to understand how you can post comments like the one I am replying to. Please understand, I am not trying to insult. I’m just bewildered.

            To stay on topic, I must ask, how are you less ignorant than Joe?

          • Orthodox Jews and the Taliban dress and act the same way. They are the ones you see on the streets of NY in black baggy clothing, with flat black hats [or fur] and sidecurls.

            In Israel women have to sit at the back of the bus, and not walk on the same sidewalk as the men [they are pushing this in Brooklyn as well]….showing an elbow means men throw stones at you.

            Same crap as the Taliban….they are both fundie groups. The US has fundie christian groups as well.

            I am NOT tolerant of racism or stupidity….and people should stop blaming others for what we do ourselves. Our western arrogance causes a lot of these problems….and it’s harming us far more than them.

  2. I call this the Aliya two-step. The UK is going down the same road as France. The Jews fleeing to the UK now will be fleeing again soon. Israel is the best destination for Jews leaving Eurabia.

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