'I saw cops ignoring protestors giving the Nazi salute’
Growing up in a Zionist family in France, Emmanuel Vanunu believed he should first ‘pay off his debt’ to the country that had given him so much before immigrating to Israel. But when the anti-Semitic protests began, he decided to move to a place where he would feel more at home.
“I met a history teacher who really influenced me,” he recalls. “The teacher, a ‘real Frenchman,’ as they say, argued that France had given us free education, personal security and a lot of social benefits, and that we owed the country.
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“His argument was that we can’t take everything it gave us and just leave. He spoke to all sectors—Jews, Muslims, and even educated French people who prefer to leave for the United States.
“This argument made sense to me, and I thought I should stay in France for a few years, to sort of ‘pay off my debt.’”
So you stayed to pay off your debt?
“The idea was to stay in France for a few years and give back to the state a little, but it all changed once anti-Semitic protests began in France. There were many protests—anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, with very difficult features. I saw protestors giving the Nazi salute and being ignored by police officers standing right in front of them. I couldn’t tolerate the situation. I couldn’t accept the way the street was behaving, and my thoughts about my debt to the country changed.”
On the other hand, there hasn’t been a French president who hasn’t spoken about the war on anti-Semitism and supported the Jews.
“That’s clear, but it’s today’s politics. Political correctness rules, and they say the right things, but the street reacts differently. It annoys me that on the one hand there are supportive declarations, and on the other hand there is anti-Semitism on the ground. I feel France no longer cares about me. As long as there were good years and the country thrived, there were no problems with the Jews. As soon as things get difficult, you know who the accusing finger will be pointed at and how the social climate is going to change. Anti-Semitism doesn’t come from the government; it comes from the people.”
And what about your debt to France?
“I decided to change my approach: I’m grateful to France for what it has given me, but I’m leaving. I’m moving to a place where I will feel more at home.”
‘My forefathers dreamed of coming here’
Vanunu arrived in Israel from Paris about 11 months ago. “I have been very satisfied since I arrived,” he says. “I feel the Israeli street, the good vibes here, and I’m acclimating to the country.”
Are you having a hard time adjusting to the Israeli mentality?
“It’s different, without a doubt, but I think there’s something much more real about it. Many French people ask ‘how are you?’ out of politeness, but they aren’t really interested in the answer. Here, everything is sincerer, for better or for worse, and usually for better. There is something more genuine here.
“I know that my forefathers dreamed of coming here, and they would have done everything to fulfill that dream. So I, with all my privileges and convenience, won’t fulfill this dream?”