French Jews in Israel Say 'Non' to Mass Emigration After Attacks

French Jews living in Israel remember victims of Paris attacks in Tel Aviv event, and criticize Netanyahu's steps to encourage mass immigration to Israel.

Tomer Appelbaum

Rebecca could easily have been among the victims of Friday's attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris: She used to live in front of the Hyper Cacher and often shopped before the Sabbath at the grocery which was turned into the scene of a lethal hostage situation.

But the 31-year-old French woman had moved to Israel less than a month ago, and on Sunday joined some 100 people at a ceremony on Rothschild Street in Tel Aviv to remember the 17 victims of three days of terror attacks in France.

"It's surreal, I can't believe it, it could have been me," said Rebecca, who declined to give her last name. Despite being potentially saved from a close call by her move to Israel, she had harsh words for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders who have been encouraging French Jews to immigrate to Israel following the wave of attacks that began with Wednesday's massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper.

"I came to Israel because I am a Zionist, I didn't leave France out of fear," she told Haaretz.

"I always refused to be afraid and I refuse to say that we should leave out of fear," she said. "Bibi has no right to say that French Jews should leave France, we still need a strong Diaspora."

That message was echoed by most leaders and members of the French Jewish community gathered for the small event timed to coincide with the much larger rally in Paris led by several world leaders, including Netanyahu.

Participants in the Tel Aviv event gathered under banners that read in French "Je suis Charlie - casher aussi" (I am Charlie and kosher too), in reference to last week's two main attacks. While joining in solidarity with the victims of the massacres and calling on Muslims to isolate the extremists amongst them, speakers also criticized as dangerous the appeals for increased emigration from France.

"It is dangerous because it lets the enemy understand that with violence they can push the Jews out, with violence they can reach their goal," said Gerard Benhamou, head of Darkenou Israel Europe, one of the French expat groups that organized the event.

Benhamou, who immigrated to Israel some 30 years ago, said he would welcome those who immigrate, but added that Jews should immigrate out of their own will and not give up their right to live freely and in security in France or other Western countries.

"We are completely opposed to the message of panic urging the French Jewish community to immigrate to Israel," Benhamou told the small crowd, gathering loud applause.

Immigration from France, Europe's largest Jewish community with some half a million Jews, has spiked in recent years. According to the Jewish Agency, 7,000 new immigrants arrived in 2014, more than double than in 2013 and triple the number of immigrants in 2012.

On Saturday, Netanyahu said a special ministerial committee will convene this week to discuss steps to encourage immigration from France and from Europe in general.

"I wish to tell to all French and European Jews – Israel is your home," he said. "If the world doesn't come to its senses, terror will strike in other places as well."

Daphna Poznanski, president of the Association des Francais en Israel, said Netanyahu's appeal was "just words," and charged that Israeli leaders have been making such calls for years without taking any concrete steps to make immigration easier for French Jews.

"In any case, I am against an aliyah of fear, one should want to come to live in Israel for idealism," she said.

While not addressing Netanyahu's words directly, a French embassy official who spoke at the rally also encouraged French Jews to stay put.

"The Jews of France have been afraid for many years and they have a right to feel safe," said Deputy Ambassador Gilles Pecassou. "But Jews have a place in France and without them France would no longer be France."