French Minister Tries to Lure Back Immigrants in Israel

Israel is attracting precisely the kind of talent that the French economy badly needs, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron speaking at an event in Tel Aviv last week. AFP

A key goal of this week's visit to Israel by French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron was to lure Jewish investors and high-tech talent back to France, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

A confluence of forces, the paper writes, is driving French Jews to relocate to Israel, where many of them are launching job-generating startups. Those forces include frustration with the chronic rigidity of France’s education and labor systems and the perceived rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment in France.

That exodus has created what the journal says is a "delicate dilemma" for the French government. Israel is attracting precisely the kind of talent the Eurozone’s second-largest economy needs: budding tech entrepreneurs.

“A lot of these people have energy, vitality. They want to create jobs, startups, and innovate here,” Macron said in an interview with the newspaper. “They can innovate as well in France." 

Close to 7,000 French Jews moved to Israel last year, more than double the number who relocated in 2013, according to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. More than 36% of the emigrants hold college degrees, 17% of them in engineering.

Those departures are not only eroding France’s nearly half-million-strong Jewish population. They are also depriving the country of future business leaders and investors at a time when the economy is struggling with meager growth and double-digit unemployment.

In his meetings in Israel, Macron talked up the measures – from tax incentives to streamlined labor tribunals – that his ministry is in the process of implementing. But French entrepreneurs who have put down roots in Israel say their new homeland offers them something France can’t – peace of mind.

The anti-Israel violence in France during the 2104 Gaza War and the kosher grocery terrorist attack last January have exacerbated feelings of alienation that some émigrés say has become part of being Jewish in a country expected to embody the values of a secular republic.

Budding entrepreneurs also fear the heavy stigma in France that comes with failure. The country’s top schools steer graduates toward careers as civil servants protected by cradle-to-grave labor contracts that émigrés say discourage the risk-taking involved in launching a startup.

In Israel, employers and investors view early failure as a valuable learning experience, émigrés say, while it can be viewed as career-ending in France.

Macron told parents at a French high school in Tel Aviv on Sunday that the French government had mobilized thousands of police to protect Jewish synagogues and other sensitive sites.

The government, he insisted, wasn't standing in the way of Jews who choose to live in Israel. Instead, he said, “our responsibility is to make sure it’s a choice."