"This conference is a celebration of the significant presence of French Jews in Israel. It’s a celebration of the real beginning of the aliyah (immigration) from France just after the Six Day War," said Dr. Erik Cohen, of the University's School of Education, who will deliver the opening lecture.
Dr. Cohen will discuss the special relationship between the Jews of France and Israel. He will provide an overall picture of the history of the Jews in France from the French Revolution thru World War II.
One hundred thousand Jews in Israel today are directly linked to the aliyah from France, says Dr. Cohen. "But very interestingly the Jews in Israel from France duplicate the trend of individual identity which they learned in France and don't organize themselves in Israel as a group in order to make an impact.
"All the Jews from France are dispersed geographically, politically, and economically. They don't constitute a lobby or a group and maybe this is an expression of what they learned in France", he says. Cohen contends that as a group Anglo Saxon immigrants in Israel are much more organized than the French because the Anglos come from more well organized Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
According to Dr. Cohen's research there is still significant potential for French immigration to Israel – of at least 30,000-40,000 – particularly if the situation for Jews in France deteriorates.
Better relations between Israel, FranceOn the diplomatic front, Prof. Ilan Greilsammer, an expert on French politics in Bar-Ilan University's Department of Political Science, says that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has initiated better relations with Israel compared to his predecessors.
"Since Sarkozy's election as president in 2007, France's diplomatic relations towards Israel have improved drastically. From the time of the presidency of Charles de Gaulle's, relations between France and Israel had been typified as cold and critical, especially in comparison to Israel's relations with other European countries. France's former president Jacques Chirac's visit to Israel a few years ago was characterized by hostile and cold behavior on the part of Chirac, which says a lot about the type of relations that existed between the two countries in that period."
"Today, France is taking one of the strongest stances among Western countries against Iran and against the nuclear threat, and in this aspect France's diplomacy is identical to Israel's," says Prof. Greilsammer, who will lecture at the conference on "France's Diplomacy Toward Israel".
Prof. Juliette Hassine, of the Department of Comparative Literature at Bar-Ilan University, will lecture in a session on Literature and Humanities. "I believe that the best way to describe the immigration from France and its importance is by the prominent cultural, social and community influence it has had," she says, pointing to a large scale of cultural activities organized within the French community for the public-at-large and the many philanthropic activities aimed at raising funds for the needy.
The conference, sponsored by the Dahan Sephardic Heritage Center at Bar-Ilan University and the Ariel Institute, will be held on Monday, December 28, 2009 in the Mintz Auditorium on the Bar-Ilan University campus.