French Jews' Immigration at Highest Level in 30 Years

Jewish immigration to Israel from France - where anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise - has reached its highest level in more than three decades, immigration officials said Tuesday. The Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organization, said 2,236 French Jews immigrated between January and the end of October 2004, up from 1,860 during the same period in 2003 and higher than the full-year figure for any year since 1972 when 2,356 French immigrants arrived.

France has experienced a recent wave of anti-Semitic incidents, coinciding with the four year round of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. French Interior Ministry figures show 510 anti-Jewish acts or threats in the first six months of 2004 - compared to 593 for all of 2003.

There has also been growing friction between the 600,000 strong French Jewish community - the third-largest in the world - and France's Muslim population of almost 5 million.

Presenting the figures to journalists Tuesday, Jewish Agency chief Sallai Meridor was reluctant to link the rise in immigration to "the recent developments in France."

"We don't want any Jew in any country, anywhere, feeling uncomfortable," he said. "We don't want any Jew to come to Israel because he is uncomfortable anywhere (else)."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sparked a diplomatic row in July when he told visiting Jewish American leaders that France was host to "the wildest anti-Semitism."

"If I have to advocate to our brothers in France, I will tell them one thing: Move to Israel, as early as possible," he said. The French Foreign Ministry called the remarks "unacceptable." French President Jacques Chirac called on Sharon to explain his remarks and said that until he did so, Sharon would not be welcome in France.

Israeli media later reported that Chirac sent a message to President Moshe Katsav saying he considered the incident closed. The Jewish Agency said the number of immigrants from North America in the first 10 months of the year indicated that the final 2004 figure would be the highest in at least 20 years.

As of Nov. 1, 2,240 Americans had become Israelis, compared with 2,385 for the whole of 2003, the agency said.

Nefesh B'Nefesh, a group that helps U.S. Jews relocate to Israel, said the final figure should meet or exceed 1984's total of 2,827.