international intrigue

French Jews Pretty Sure They’re Still French

Photo: Matthieu Alexandre/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had a busy couple of days since a gunman stormed the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris, killing four Jewish hostages. Those brutally murdered will be buried in Israel, he announced Friday, with all arrangements overseen by the government, and all other Jews residing in France are welcome to pack up and move to the homeland. But when he spoke at Paris’s Grand Synagogue on Sunday, it became apparent that many of the people he was calling to move were, well, French Jews, instead of Jews who happen to live in France.

Those present at the event launched into the country’s anthem — which includes the particularly relevant verse urging citizens to rise up when “against us tyranny / raises its bloody banner” — after Netanyahu concluded his address.

French president Francois Hollande, who reportedly arrived at the synagogue with Netanyahu but purposefully left before the prime minister’s call to emigrate, would’ve been proud of the gesture. France’s prime minister Manuel Valls also emphasized the importance of French Jewry to Jeffrey Goldberg over the weekend. “[I]f 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France,” he said. “The French Republic will be judged a failure.” French Jews have been making aliyah in larger numbers than other global Jewish communities recently, though, likely driven by a number of factors both economic and social. 

And leaders of European-Jewish groups don’t all think emigration is the answer, either. “Anyone who is familiar with the European reality knows that a call to make aliyah is not the solution for anti-Semitic terror,” said Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association. (In a proactive move, France has dispatched thousands of officers to guard Jewish sites.)

This wasn’t the Israeli prime minister’s only awkward moment over the weekend, though. According to many reports, Hollande had asked Netanyahu to sit out the solidarity march Sunday, so as to keep the gathering focused on France and not inject it with feelings relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The prime minister clearly declined to do so, perhaps because his own political rivals were set to make an appearance. Because international politics have all the sophistication of a middle-school popularity contest, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas — who, like Netanyahu, originally agreed to sit this one out — quickly booked his own trip to Paris. The two ended up marching practically side-by-side.

French Jews Pretty Sure They’re Still French