Israeli leaders said Sunday that they would welcome with open arms French Jews who fear for their safety in the wake of attacks by Islamist extremists against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and shoppers at a kosher supermarket in Paris last week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his cabinet linked arms with French politicians on Sunday during a march in Paris to commemorate the 17 people killed in three days of bloodshed in France. Netanyahu said, "I wish to tell to all French and European Jews – Israel is your home."
His office said the families of the four French Jews slain in the hostage standoff at the kosher grocery in Paris on Friday, which elicited round-the-clock media coverage in Israel, asked that their bodies be flown to Israel for burial. Netanyahu said he would convene a special committee to encourage Jewish immigration "from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism."
Israeli leaders pressed their case that Europe has allowed a dangerous rise of anti-Semitism and that Jews, even in the most developed countries on the continent, face not only hostility but also outright attack.
Israel routinely makes the case for Jewish immigration – providing a haven for Jews in distress is, after all, one of the founding principles of the Jewish state. But in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the pitch is being made in the blunt terms of survival.
Yair Lapid, Netanyahu's former finance minister and the head of a centrist party, said at a gathering in Israel, "Jews are being murdered because they're Jews, and intellectuals are being murdered because they're intellectuals. The Europeans are starting to understand that there can be no compromise with terror, racism and anti-Semitism."
Lapid said, "European Jewry must understand that there is just one place for Jews, and that is the state of Israel."
Naftali Bennett, Israel's economy minister and a hard-right politician who marched in Paris on Sunday, wrote on his Facebook page that he heard repeatedly from Jews that "there's nothing left for us in France."
French leaders, however, responded that they do not want to see the Jews leave.
"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," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
The attacks in Paris came as Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians began their campaigns for national elections on 17 March.
While decrying the violence, the politicians used it to drive home the point that Israel serves as a "front line" against Islamist militant groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"They might have different names – ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, al-Shabab, al-Qaida, Hezbollah – but all of them are driven by the same hatred and bloodthirsty fanaticism," Netanyahu said.
Many Arab leaders denounced the Paris attacks and said the assailants did not represent Islam.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the assaults "a heinous crime that is in contradiction of religion and morality."
Abbas also attended the solidarity march in Paris, appearing beside French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – and just a few steps from Netanyahu.
Some Israelis saw political motivations at play, especially in the backdrop of the coming elections.
"For Netanyahu and the other politicians, this is a double opportunity. It allows them to say to Europe, 'You see? This is what we're up against, so you shouldn't be so hard on Israel.' It also supports the Netanyahu narrative, casting himself as the defender of Jews, that he alone is the strong leader to face a dangerous world," said Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called on France to protect its Jewish communities.
Rivlin said that Jews from France would be welcome in Israel but that it was important that their choice be "born out of a positive Jewish identity, out of Zionism, and not because of anti-Semitism."
About 500,000 Jews are citizens of France, the second-largest population of the community outside Israel and the United States. In the past three years, Jewish immigration from France to Israel has tripled, to almost 7,000 in 2014.
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental body that facilitates Jewish immigration and absorption, predicted that more than 10,000 French Jews would come to Israel this year.
Sharansky blamed the hostile atmosphere for Jews in France in part on the country's embrace of "post-nationalism and multiculturalism" and, specifically, its lack of insistence that its Muslim immigrants support liberal democratic traditions.
He said he found French Jews, especially elderly ones, scared. "I never saw this before," Sharansky said.
"It is happening everywhere in Europe, but France has the biggest Jewish community and also the biggest Muslim community in Europe," Sharansky said in an interview in Paris on the sidelines of a previously scheduled immigration fair organised by Israel and attended by hundreds of French Jews.
"Inside France there is a core problem, and the country's leadership refuses to say where it is coming from," said Avi Zana, director general of AMI, a French organisation that encourages immigration to Israel. "They will not say that it is caused by Islamist extremism, because that is not politically correct."
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the director of the European Jewish Association, told I24 news that immigration to Israel, called "aliyah" in Hebrew for the act of "ascending," is not the only solution for French Jews.
"Anyone who is familiar with the European reality knows that a call to make aliyah is not the solution for anti-Semitic terror," Margolin said.
He said it would be better to preserve and protect Jews where they live in Europe.
William Booth and Ruth Eglash
The Washington Post
LEHTIKUVA / Antti Aimo-Koivisto