A headline in today's Times (1/13/15) reads, "Fear on Rise, Jews in France Weigh an Exit". That article goes on to detail how many French Jews have decamped for Israel and how many more are likely to do so. France, the piece specifies, "was the largest source of Jews moving to Israel last year."
Given the spread of violent, often murderous anti-Semitism in France, it's perfectly natural for French Jews to ponder exit strategy.
But it's also worth remembering that this is not the first dire crisis French Jews have experienced. During the Dreyfus Affair of the late nineteenth century, when Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was framed for treason, much of French society, not excluding members of its cultured elite such as Edgar Degas, gave themselves to a proto-fascist anti-Semitism.
France was profoundly split. Marcel Proust — yes, the hermetic author of "À la recherche du temps perdu" — transformed himself into an activist who leafleted on behalf of Dreyfus. (Imagine getting a leaflet from Proust.) Emile Zola denounced the anti-democratic cum anti-Semitic tide in his letter, "J'accuse", which helped slap France back to its senses, though Zola himself had to flee to England to escape retribution by the mob.
It's different today. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, with history in mind, has declared that the viability of "The French Republic will be judged a failure" if Jews in large numbers feel it necessary to leave. We're not in the nineteenth century. It's crucial to have French officialdom behind you, if you're a French Jew, but officialdom isn't always there when push comes to shove, as it increasingly does, on the streets.
I am not a French Jew. I'm an American Jew born and raised in the relative, though not absolute, security of the United States. But I can put myself in the place of a French Jew and wonder where to go in the increasingly anti-Semitic climate of France.
Do I stay and fight for my place in a culture to which many like me have contributed? Do I go to Israel?
In France there is danger on the street should I show any sign of being Jewish — coming out of a synagogue, wearing a yarmulke, even shopping in a kosher market. In Israel there is the threat of Iran getting nuclear weapons, of Hamas and other varieties of Islamism dedicated to exterminating my country. Let me also mention the inevitable moral and political blowback from Israeli expansionism, its ugly religious/nationalist seizure of the West Bank.
What do I do? What's the better option, were I a French Jew?
Paris with its threats or Tel Aviv with its burdens?