Sunday, November 20, 2005

"Jews Get Out"

The Jews of France are feeling barricaded, and many are fleeing to Israel, and America. From the National Post of Canada, via Fjordman:

PARIS - Romain Barthel greets me at the gates of the Lycee Diane Benvenuti, a private secondary school in the leafy 16th arrondissement of Paris. It's the day after Yom Kippur and the school, a Jewish one, is closed. Mr. Barthel is the Benvenuti school's principal; a diminutive, soft-spoken, 32-year-old observant Jew, who wears a skullcap but no sidelocks, and fashionable sneakers with narrow trousers. The gates by which we meet are not the kind you open with a latch, but rather ones you pass through with the permission of a security guard provided by Service de la protection de la communaute Juif -- a security firm created and funded by France's Jewish community -- who is installed in a booth in the school's vestibule. These gates close off both the sidewalk and the street in front of the school to cars and pedestrians -- they are a barricade.

Mr. Barthel walks me through the school, which was built three years ago to what he calls "new specifications for a new reality."

"All of our windows are made with glass both bomb- and bullet-proof; there are security cameras in all the common rooms," he says. "You will also notice there is no sign outside of the school that could single it out as a Jewish place."

In the past few years, Jews in Canada may have become familiar with some security measures in synagogues, notably around the high holidays, but nothing approaching this level of stringency.

Mr. Barthel explains the buddy system instituted at the Benvenuti school for children both arriving and leaving the premises. The students must travel in a pack and are not allowed to wear visible skullcaps or Stars of David anywhere but inside the school. They are also discouraged from dressing in a manner that Mr. Barthel calls "Shalala," meaning that they asked to refrain from dressing in a style which in North American parlance might be termed "Jappy."
"The Diesel jeans, the tight bomber jackets, these things can also make them look like Jews," he says. "They must look more quiet now, for safety."

Mr. Barthel is the father of two young children. Last year, his children's school bus, belonging to a Jewish school in Epinay-sur-seine, a northern suburb of Paris, was set on fire. "The bus was empty when it was attacked, but still, nobody did anything about it, not the police, not the government."

He says the Jews of France have increasingly felt as if they have had to take safety into their own hands. "For us now, this means one of two things: bunker in with bomb-proof glass, or leave."

Mr. Barthel and his family have chosen the latter, becoming part of what could easily qualify as an exodus of Jews. In the past four years, French-Jewish immigration to Israel has more than doubled. The United States has received an influx of thousands as well, notably to the Miami area, where, as in Israel, entirely French-Jewish communities have cropped up, bringing with them everything from kosher patisseries to synagogues both French in language and culture.

But between these twin pillars of Israel and Miami, another column is building, a column pointing toward Canada. Romain Barthel's family is just one among the thousands of French Jewish families who are seeking a new home in Quebec. "For us it was the most obvious choice," he says.

That the French -- Jews included -- can hold an ingrained aversion to the United States is well-known. That, for a French Jew, moving to Israel now is substituting one unease for another is an incontrovertible truth. That Quebec contains the largest French-speaking city outside of France is a fact, and that the city of Montreal has one of the oldest Jewish communities in North America is an idea spreading by word of mouth.

Since 2001, French Jewish immigration to Montreal has increased by more than 700%, an influx of European-born Jews from a single country in numbers not seen since the middle of the past century.

Paris was burning for two weeks this month. But Jewish Paris has been burning for five years -- a steady, fiery precursor that went largely ignored by the French authorities. The rise of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000 sparked a wave of mainly Muslim-led, anti-Jewish violence in France that has since brought forth thousands of hateful acts aimed at French Jews and their places of business, study, recreation, prayer and burial.

There have been dozens of synagogues and community centres firebombed, Jewish schools covered with anti-Semitic graffiti and set on fire, kosher shops peppered with bullets, and tombstones toppled and desecrated, a domino effect of nauseating proportions. In Paris, on the statue of Alfred Dreyfus, the words "sal juif" -- "dirty Jew" -- were painted in 2002, an epithet that has made a comeback in parts of France, although perhaps not spray-painted on brick or stone as often as "Jews Get Out."

Romain Barthel's brother moved to Montreal three years ago. Mr. Barthel, along with his wife and children, will be making the journey next September. "We are emigrating to Quebec for our children. You will find that this is the case with many of the Jews leaving. Even with all the aggressions, we are in many ways comfortable here. We have nice homes, jobs, family and a rich cultural life. We just can't see a Jewish future in France. There are the attacks [by extremists], but almost worse, we feel there is lethargy in this country to help us against the abuses."

In 2002, the same year Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme right Front National party came second in the general election, the same year hundreds of anti-Semitic crimes were recorded, the same year Le Monde published an article so searing in its anti-Jewish sentiment that a French court has since found its writers and editor guilty of "racial defamation," French President Jacques Chirac admonished a Jewish editor to "stop saying there is anti-Semitism in France. There is no anti-Semitism in France."

Author Salomon Malka, a Jewish community leader and director of one of the Jewish radio stations in Paris, says a president who says "no anti-Semitism" when synagogues are being bombed is a president saying "not France's problem" when it comes to its Jews.

"There is a tendency in thought here that much of what happens between a Jew and a Muslim is a Middle Eastern problem -- not a European one," he says.

"This is impossible for a French Jew. Many of us consider ourselves equally French and Jewish -- this balanced, mixed identity, for many centuries, has been our description, our key to success and ease in this country."

Mr. Malka, who is not planning on leaving France, but whose son is now considering a university in Quebec, agrees with Mr. Barthel that the exodus has to do more with what might become than what is.

"Today is tolerable," he says, noting there has been an earnest, if rather ineffectual, clampdown on anti-Semitic violence on the part of French authorities this year.

"But our future here is hard to envision, even if [we are] just looking at demographics." There are 500,000 to 600,000 Jews living in France, and the population is dwindling. "There are six million Muslims," he says, "and their population is growing." Mr. Malka says even though most Muslims in France are moderate, "for Jews this is still not a comfortable situation, even from the standpoint of politics. For politicians, it's plain where the votes are."

"Sometimes it's best," says Mr. Barthel, "to just look clearly and say, 'OK, it's been nice in the past, but now it's time to move on.'

"In the span of history," he adds, "this is a not an altogether unfamiliar situation for us."

It's interesting how, repeatedly, throughout history, Jews come to feel at home in various countries, thinking, as the person quoted in this article, that they are equally French and Jewish, or German and Jewish. But, unfortunately, their host countries always seem to eventually tell them otherwise.