There’s an often-repeated assertion that Jews are fleeing France in droves because of anti-Semitism and an inimical security situation for the Jewish community there – especially in the wake of the 2012 slaying of a rabbi and three Jewish children in Toulouse by a radical Muslim gunman. Yet, although aliyah is up by a significant percentage over the previous year, there is no sign that the French Jewish community is making aliyah en masse, said Andrew Srulevitch, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of European affairs, during a recent visit to the Jewish News office.
“This is a community of close to half a million people and from 1968 up until today, if you look at the statistics for aliyah to Israel, [the number] bounces between 1,500 and 4,000 a year, but that’s a quarter-percent to a half-percent or so. And so when you read about French aliyah has jumped 63 percent over the past year, that’s true, but that’s essentially going from about a half-percent to little over a three-quarters of a percent,” said Srulevitch, who was in Phoenix recently to speak at an ADL luncheon.
“I don’t want to downplay what’s going on [in France] because, actually, while the numbers of incidents have gone down in the past couple of years, the latest figures that we have from the French Jewish security agency, SPCJ, [show] that in 2012 that they had the highest number of violent incidents on record. So there’s definitely cause for concern there.” And citing a European Agency for Fundamental Rights survey of European Jews that was published in November, he said, “The experiences of the French, those who responded to the survey, paint a very disheartening picture. I think about half of the people who responded were concerned or didn’t wear identifying symbols – a kippah or a magen David – on the street. There were, I think, a third who had avoided Jewish places or Jewish events out of fear for their security, and so it’s not just the number of attacks or incidents that’s important, but it’s this feeling of insecurity that affects Jewish life that is something that still needs to be addressed.”
Srulevitch works to monitor and react to anti-Semitism and concerns about religious freedom in Europe.
“Just to give you an example, if something happens in Greece, I’ll pick up the phone and call Benjamin Albalas, who’s the president of the Greek Jewish community, and ask him what he knows about this incident, what he thinks we should do, and we’ll try to figure out a way where we can be helpful to them based upon the local knowledge and the local advice,” Srulevitch said. “Then, we will do our advocacy, whether it’s to the national government, whether it’s with media, [or] with a political party.”
The ADL is very concerned about the presence of genuinely neo-Nazi parties – such as Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece – in European parliaments, because membership in parliament lends an aura of legitimacy to their anti-Semitic rhetoric, which threatens Jews’ security in those countries, Srulevitch said.
The removal of an anti-Semitic Hungarian-language Facebook page started by kuruc.info – ADL compiled a dossier of the page’s violations of Facebook’s terms of service that led the social-media giant to delete the page, which had 72,000 followers – is one of the victories that help him maintain a “sense of optimism” in the face of the disturbing data he collects.