On My Mind: Assessing French Jewish opinion

This survey of French Jews comes amid a continuing rise of antisemitism in France.

By
June 3, 2019 21:22
4 minute read.
Yellow Vests

A man wearing a yellow vest tackles a protester as tear gas floats in the air during clashes with police at a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Nantes, France, December 15, 2018. (photo credit: STEPHANE MAHE / REUTERS)

What Jews in the United States and Israel are saying often gets headlines, and what they are thinking is the subject of regular public opinion surveys. My organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), has polled American Jews annually for decades, and last year began concurrently surveying Israeli Jews, asking some of the same questions.
 
But what about the third largest Jewish community in the world? A new AJC survey of French Jews is both enlightening and disturbing. A majority of Jews in France have both personally experienced antisemitism in their own country and believe that their government is not effectively combating antisemitism.
 
This survey of French Jews comes amid a continuing rise of antisemitism in France, which has seen some of the most brutally violent attacks on Jews in any European country. Fully half of those surveyed say the situation of Jews in France in terms of security is worse than a year ago, while 25% say it is neither better nor worse, and only 20% say it is better.
 
A majority, 58%, reported that they have personally experienced antisemitism in France – 33% several times and 25% once – while only 38% say they never have.
 
Further, asked about their government’s response, only 35% of French Jews think France is effectively combating antisemitism in France, while 56% say it is not.
 
Postponement last week of a French Parliament vote to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism was disheartening. The measure was intended to formalize French President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge in February to step up the government’s fight against antisemitism by endorsing the definition. Hopefully, this important legislative action will take place soon.


RISING ANTISEMITISM in France, where incidents targeting Jews spiked by 74% in 2018 over the previous year, has led some to consider emigrating to another country. A majority, 55%, have seriously considered migrating during the past 12 months, while 41% have not, according to the AJC survey. Of those who have considered emigration, 17% say it is “mostly because of fear for the future of Jews in France,” 21% cite economic reasons, 12% generally fear for the future of France, and 5% point to religious or cultural attractions elsewhere.
 
Nearly one-third (29%) of those who are considering emigrating would choose the United States, while 23% would go to Canada, 21% to Israel, 14% to the United Kingdom and 13% to another country.
 
Choosing whether to migrate as well as to which destination differs by age, with younger Jews more inclined to go. Over the past year, 69% of those under the age of 35 and 60% of 35-49 year-old have seriously considered leaving France, while only 29% aged 50-64, and 27% over 65 have.
 
Older Jews prefer Israel as a destination – 46% of those 65 and over would choose Israel, 43% another country, and only 3% the US and 8% Canada. Some 30% of those between 50 and 64 years old would choose Israel, 22% the US, 19% Canada and 26% another country.
 
North America is the preferred destination for younger French Jews, with 34% under 35 choosing the US, 21% Canada, 21% Israel, 18% the UK and 6% another country. Among the 35-49 demographic, 27% would choose the US, 32% Canada, 12% Israel, 14% the UK and 15% another country.
 
NEVERTHELESS, French Jewish ties to Israel are overall strong, according to responses to a series of questions in the AJC survey. Asked if they agree with the statement “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew,” 59% said yes, with 27% agreeing “strongly”; 37% disagreed.
 
Nearly half (48%) have family in Israel to whom they feel close, 25% own a residence in Israel, and 65% have visited Israel – 25% once, 21% more than once and 19% at least five times. Only 35% have never visited Israel. Furthermore, using the metaphor of a family, 31% of French Jews surveyed consider Israelis their siblings, 26% first cousins and 20% extended family, while only 16% consider Israelis “not part of my family.”
 
Here, French Jews are clearly more connected to Israel than American Jews, 59% of whom have never visited Israel. Only 16% of US Jews have visited Israel once, 15% more than once, and 10% at least five times. And, also differing from French Jews, 13% of American Jews consider Israelis siblings, 15% first cousins, 43% extended family, and 28% not part of my family.
 
AJC’s 2019 Survey of French Jewish Opinion, conducted by Ifop, a top polling firm in France, is based on telephone and face-to-face interviews carried out from March 11 to May 2, with a national sample of 771 Jews over the age of 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.1%.
 
It is one of three surveys released Sunday on the first day of the AJC Global Forum, the leading Jewish advocacy organization’s signature annual event, taking place in Washington, from June 2-4.
 
The separate surveys of US, Israeli and French Jews are available in full at www.ajc.org/survey2019. Together, they provide invaluable insights into the thinking of each of the three largest Jewish communities, and comparisons among them.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.


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