French Jewish leader: 'Aliya should come from love, not fear'

CRIF official says this approach will allow olim to maintain healthy links with the old country.

FRENCH JEWISH children at the historic Synagogue des Tournelles in Paris in July ahead of their aliya with their families. (photo credit: EREZ LICHTFELD)
FRENCH JEWISH children at the historic Synagogue des Tournelles in Paris in July ahead of their aliya with their families.
(photo credit: EREZ LICHTFELD)
French Jews should move to Israel out of love for their ancestral land and not out of fear, a senior official of the European nation’s central communal umbrella organization told The Jerusalem Post.
When asked about calls for aliya by senior Israeli officials following last week’s terrorist attack at a kosher grocers in Paris, Marc Levy, a member of the Executive Board of the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France (CRIF) who was in Israel for the four victims’ funerals, said immigration to Israel was a “personal decision.”
“It should be done from love and not from fear. You should make aliya because you want to see your children and grandchildren grow up in a beautiful country like Israel, and especially not [because you are] flying away from a country like France to which we have so many attachments.
“I think that if you make aliya from love of Israel, it will still allow you to keep a good connection with France, a connection that won’t be bitter. We are and we stay French, and you [should] make aliya with all the positive sense to it” that is connected to the Jewish people’s millennia-old attachment to its land, he said.
Many French Jews hold a deep attachment to their country: CRIF’s President Roger Cukierman recently tweeted that “There are Jews in France for 2,000 years, France without the Jews is not France.”
The community is strongly Zionist, however, with close ties to the Jewish state.
French immigration to Israel has increased dramatically in recent years, fueled by economic malaise and rising levels of anti-Semitism. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky recently told the Post that 50,000 French Jews had inquired about aliya in 2014. Almost 7,000 out of a total population of 600,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel last year, double the number who arrived in 2013.
While French Jews have moved to Britain, Canada and the United States, among other destinations, and precise figures are not available, Sharansky has asserted that “the overwhelming majority” of Jewish émigrés from France, possibly up to 70 percent, choose to come to Israel.
The government has been discussing ways in which obstacles to the transfer of professional accreditation and licensing can be removed, paving the way for more members of the highly educated community to move, while Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan has discussed easing the process of recognizing French rabbinical ordination here.
Eli Ringer, the immediate past president of Belgium’s Forum der Joodse Organisaties, told the Post on Tuesday that statements describing France as dangerous for Jews and calls for mass immigration to Israel could have negative repercussions.
Statements warning Jews to flee the Diaspora could embolden Islamic extremists and even lead to further violence, he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a message to French Jewry over the weekend: “The State of Israel is not just the place to which you turn in prayer.
The State of Israel is also your home. This week, a special team of ministers will convene to advance steps to increase immigration from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism.
All Jews who want to immigrate to Israel will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms. We will help you in your absorption here in our country, which is also your country.”
Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon created a diplomatic storm when he told American Jewish leaders in 2004: “If I have to advise our brothers in France, I’ll tell them one thing – move to Israel, as early as possible. I say that to Jews all around the world, but there, I think it’s a must and they have to move immediately.”
In response, then-French president Jacques Chirac said Sharon was not welcome in France, while French Jewish leaders spoke out harshly against Sharon’s statement, with one asserting that he had “poured oil on the fire in an unacceptable manner.”
After last week’s attacks, however, the response of the French Jewish community seemed different from 2004, with a senior aid to the chief rabbi telling Le Figaro, “If the means used [to protect the community] are not sufficient, the efforts of the chief rabbi to convince French Jews not to leave the country will be in vain.”
Herb Keinon and JTA contributed to this report.