The most dangerous place to be a Jew in Europe today is France—that’s the conclusion of an as-yet unpublished, two-year report on anti-Semitism in 11 European countries, conducted by former NYPD commissioner Raymond W. Kelly for Ronald S. Lauder, the former U.S. Ambassador to Austria.
Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has donated heavily to efforts combatting anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States. He asked Kelly, New York’s longest-serving police commissioner, to assess the growth of the anti-Semitism sweeping Europe and suggest practical ways to strengthen the security of Jewish communities and institutions.
Though the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe has been widely noted and condemned, Kelly’s report concludes that the threat to France’s 450,000 Jews—the world’s third-largest community, after Israel and the U.S.—is the most “acute.” Attacks and threats against French Jews surged 74 percent from 2017 to 2018, the report finds, and preliminary data for the first half of 2019 indicate “further intensification,” with another 75 percent increase last year. Moreover, the official estimates of some 500 attacks and anti-Semitic acts per year are “notoriously under reported,” according to the study, which contends that “no responsible individuals or even government representatives place much credence in these numbers.”
Kelly and two additional investigators, David Cohen and Mitchell D. Silber, both former senior NYPD counterterrorism officials, blame the French government for failing to respond to the almost-constant violence against and harassment of French Jews. Government funds to the Jewish community total just $3.7 million a year—“about one-fifth of what British Jews receive from their government, though France’s Jewish population is roughly double that of Britain.”
France initially overreacted to the 2015 attacks at the Bataclan and Hyper Cacher supermarket, but it has underreacted ever since. What the report calls the police’s “catch-as-catch-can” mobile deployments to protect synagogues and other Jewish facilities “provide little or no police presence and deterrence.” While the 40 synagogues in Paris have installed security cameras, only eight are monitored by the Jewish group responsible for security, none on a steady basis. In addition, France rarely enforces its laws banning hate speech.
To justify such indifference and what the report calls the public and private sector’s “inadequate” response to the growing threat, Paris hides behind its “lip-service to France’s secularism.” Requests for additional government funding to address security shortfalls would likely be rejected, prominent French Jews complained to Kelly’s team, since France’s political, judicial, and law enforcement establishment interpret their country’s “secularism ideology” to mean that the state “cannot give ‘special’ attention to one ethnic or religious group over another, even in the face of disparate threat or dangers.” This translates into “doing very little to provide French Jewry with confidence that they will be protected on a sustained basis from the verbal and physical harassment and/or violence facing them,” Kelly writes.
The report attributes the breadth and depth of French anti-Semitism to history, poor economic performance, and demography. French Jews now face virulent anti-Semitism from three primary sources: first, the “long-standing strain . . . from the right,” which, though muted, persists in political parties like Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. The second threat comes from the left—the “intellectual/university class, [which] directs its anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian views at French Jews via protests and social ostracism of even professional Jews.” Meantime, the Yellow Vest protests, which began in late 2018 to protest President Macron’s policies, have developed an anti-Jewish tone, the report asserts. Though protesters initially targeted French elites, whom they blame for their woes, the movement has also incorporated historic tropes about “Jews, Jewish wealth, and Jewish financial and political power.”
However, the report stresses that the “single greatest threat of violence” against French Jews emanates from radicalization among portions of a growing French Muslim population. The most recent anti-Semitic wave began in the early 1990s, when “the children of North African Muslims who entered France after Algeria’s independence came of age.” Anti-Semitism among Muslims is also fueled by local grievances, especially the 1.3 percent economic growth rate projected for 2019 and 1.6 percent for 2020. This anemic growth can’t “absorb the Muslim youth cohort most susceptible to radicalization,” especially with an unemployment rate of some 25 percent in French suburbs. Anti-Semitism has intensified due to France’s failure to assimilate Muslims and “anti-Semitic social media and satellite TV from the Arab world.”
Anti-Semitic attacks and verbal harassment are especially pronounced in areas where middle- and working-class Arabs live side-by-side with Jewish counterparts. Kelly’s team labels these Jewish residents as “at risk,” estimating their numbers at 150,000, or one-third of France’s Jewish population.
In response, French Jews have started emigrating, either to Israel or to safer French cities and neighborhoods. Many wealthier French Jews have established dual residency in Israel or other countries. While the flow of emigration to Israel has slowed from a peak of 9,000 in 2015 to 2,500 last year, between 3,000 and 5,000 French Jews each year now emigrate to Britain, Australia, the U.S., and elsewhere—a “significant” exodus, the report finds.
To protect their children, French Jews have largely abandoned public schools. Some 70 percent of all school-age Jews, among the highest proportion in Europe, now attend religious schools. Sports programs are also increasingly Jewish-only matches, as are cultural events. Jewish community representatives rely on “volunteers” to safeguard France’s 300 synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Their staffing, organization, and infrastructure have been “outstripped by the growth of the anti-Semitic threat.”
While the report doesn’t urge Jews to emigrate, it suggests a bleak future for those who remain, given the projected population growth among French Muslims. The French Muslim population now stands at some 6 million, and a recent Pew study projects a 50 percent increase in their numbers by 2050, even with no additional immigration.
The report recommends more than a dozen steps that the government and French Jews could take to reduce the threat. It urges the leading Jewish security organization, the Jewish Community Protection Service, to establish a Security Operations Center, which can monitor security cameras in synagogues and other major Jewish hubs, and to create a “crime prevention unit” to examine the security of Jewish locations. The Jewish community itself needs better-trained professionals and volunteers to enhance security, not only in Paris but also other regions where many Jews live. French law enforcement should establish “fixed visible police posts” in places where Jews have been attacked and establish specialized regional “hate-crime” investigative units. And France should enforce its stringent hate-crime laws.
Overall, however, the report seems pessimistic. “Radical Islam is universally seen in France as a physical threat,” Kelly and his team conclude. “And this more violence-prone anti-Semitism is certain to worsen.”
Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images