Jewish immigration to Israel from western Europe has reached an all-time high as a result of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, a leading nonprofit group said Thursday.
The Jewish Agency, which works closely with the Israeli government and acts as a link for Jews around the world, reported that 9,880 western European Jews immigrated to Israel in 2015 - the highest annual number ever.
The vast majority, close to 8,000, came from France where a rise in anti-Semitic attacks has shattered the sense of security of the world's third-largest Jewish population.
Just this week, a machete-wielding teen attacked a Jewish teacher in the French town of Marseille, prompting a local Jewish authority to ask fellow Jews to refrain from wearing their traditional skull caps to stay safe.
Close to 800 Jews have emigrated from Britain in this latest exodus. Italy and Belgium are next on the list.
"That a record number of European Jews feel that Europe is no longer their home should alarm European leaders and serve as a wake-up call for all who are concerned about the future of Europe," said Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
"At the same time, the fact that Israel has become the number one destination for European Jews seeking to build a better future elsewhere is a tribute to the appeal of life in Israel and the values the Jewish state represents," Sharansky added.
Experts say European Jews have not felt this threatened since World War II, when 6 million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. Jews have been targeted in Belgium, Denmark and other European countries, but France has seen the worst of it. Jews have increasingly reported assaults and intimidation, mostly from Muslim extremists. While some attacks have been linked to anger at Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, most have been anti-Semitic in nature.
France is still reeling from a series of attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people and just marked the anniversary of attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store which killed 17 people. In each case, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
France's Jewish community of some 500,000 is the largest in Europe. Jewish schools and synagogues are often surrounded by soldiers in combat fatigues who patrol the streets with automatic rifle. Though Jews make up less than one percent of the population, French officials say more than 50 percent of all reported racist attacks in 2014 were directed against them.
On Tuesday, Zvi Ammar, head of the Israelite Consistory of Marseille, said he is asking Jews to go without the kippa "until better days." His call came a day after a 15-year-old Turkish Kurd attacked and wounded a Jewish teacher on a street in Marseille - France's second-largest city - then told police after his arrest that he acted in the name of the Islamic State group.