"If 100,000 French people of Spanish origin were to leave, I would never say that France is not France anymore. But if 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France. The French Republic will be judged a failure,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Sunday ahead of a memorial rally in honor of those killed in France in recent days.
He made the comments in an interview with The Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg as world leaders descended on Paris for a march in honor of the victims of this week's Islamist militant attacks, which saw seventeen people, including journalists and policemen, die in three days of violence that began with a shooting attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday and ended with a hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket on Friday. The three gunmen were also killed.
“Jews were sometimes marginalized in France, but this was not Spain or other countries—they were never expelled, and they play a role in the life of France that is central,” Valls said, adding that “To understand what the idea of the republic is about, you have to understand the central role played by the emancipation of the Jews. It is a founding principle.”
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Approximately half a million Jews lived in France up until a year ago, making it the largest Jewish community in Europe. But the rise of anti-Semitism has driven many away, according to the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia – mainly to the UK, Israel, and North America.
France's Agence Juive, which tracks Jewish emigration, estimates that more than 5,000 Jews left France for Israel in 2014, up from 3,300 in 2013, which was a 73 percent increase on 2012.
Valls conceded that “there is a new anti-Semitism in France" but said that its stems from economic frustration and political anger at Israel: "This new anti-Semitism comes from the difficult neighborhoods, from immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, who have turned anger about Gaza into something very dangerous. Israel and Palestine are just a pretext. There is something far more profound taking place now.”
Local Jewish leaders praised Valls and Hollande for funding security for local Jews, but some say that is not enough.
Figures from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry corroborated claims that Jews are fleeing France. A record 6,600 French Jews moved to Israel in 2014, a 32 percent increase compared to the previous year, in which the French became the largest group of immigrants to Israel.
But some urge Israel to help the local community instead of encouraging immigration. Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the European Jewish Association (EJA), expressed his concern at Israel's tendency to portary Aliyah as the only solution.
"Aliyah is one's personal yearning and should definitely be a goal for the State of Israel. However, anyone who is familiar with the European reality knows that a call to make Aliyah is not the solution for Anti-Semitic terror," Rabbi Margolin said.
The rabbi emphasized that the "Israeli government must increase security for the European Jewish community Rather than just repeat Pavlovian calls for Aliyah after every terror attack"
According to Rabbi Margolin, Jews who wish to make Aliyah do not need these kind of calls and continue to immigrate to Israel, and in light of the horrific events in Paris, Aliyah to Israel has increased anyway.
"We have our sadness and our rage, we also have a set out a number of urgent measures to take," CRIF President Roger Cukierman said after a meeting with French President Hollande.
"They told us that all schools and all synagogues will be protected in measures that, if necessary, extend beyond the police to the army."
Statistics also showed a total increase of 88 percent in immigration from Western Europe, with the arrival of 8,640 people in 2014, compared to about 4,600 in 2013. About 620 immigrants arrived from the UK, compared to 520 in 2013 – an increase of about 20 percent – and 340 Italians, double the number from the previous year.
Stephen Pollard, editor of the UK's Jewish Chronicle newspaper, claimed that the terror attack in France would cause more Jews to leave France. He said it was no coincidence that a Jewish business was selected as a target. "Every Jewish Frenchman I know has either left the country or is preparing to," he wrote.
"What's happening in France, which keeps getting worse and worse over the years, gives a unique perspective on the problem of anti-Semitism." According to Pollard, there are currently only 400,000 Jews in France. "This is the largest Jewish exodus since the war. This is a fact," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report