The number of French Jews immigrating to Israel is up by 11 percent this year over 2014, Jewish Agency officials said Tuesday, as a planeload of 200 French-speaking immigrants arrived amid fears of an uptick in European anti-Semitism.
Some 7,200 French Jews immigrated to Israel in 2014, an all-time record.
So far in 2015, 4,260 French immigrants have reached Israel, up 11% from the 3,830 who moved to Israel over the same period a year earlier, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which facilitates immigration.
The figures mark the first time that more than 1% of a Western country’s Jewish population has immigrated to Israel in a single year, according to the Jewish Agency.
More than 20,000 French Jews have immigrated over the past five years, most of them young people and families.
In addition, interest in immigrating increased by 30% this year, according to the Jewish Agency.
Analysts have pointed to increased fears of anti-Semitic attacks in France and elsewhere in Western Europe as driving the immigration numbers.
2015 saw a spate of attacks on French Jewish targets, an increase of 84% in anti-Semitic incidents from last year, according to the French Jewish communities security service SPCJ.
The worst of the attacks occurred on January 9, when an Islamist terrorist killed four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket.
In response to the attacks in France, Israeli politicians have called on French Jews to immigrate to Israel.
“To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in January, following the January supermarket attack, referring to the Jewish practice of facing Jerusalem during prayer.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls countered that “France would no longer be France” if Jews fled the country en masse.
More than 200 French Jews, half of them children, arrived in Israel Tuesday morning aboard a special flight organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The immigrants were given a festive welcome at Ben Gurion International Airport.
Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky said that in response to a rise in interest from European Jews, his organization had “significantly expanded” its efforts to bring Jews from Europe to Israel in the last two years.
“We are seeing an unprecedented wave of Aliyah from European countries, which indicates not only how Europe is becoming an uncomfortable place for Jews, but—even more importantly—the extent to which Israel is becoming a magnet for Jews interested in a meaningful Jewish life, in freedom, personal security, and a sense of belonging to a country that is integral to the future of the Jewish people,” Sharansky said.
Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Ze’ev Elkin said that the ministry was preparing for the arrival of between 30,000 and 35,000 immigrants from all over the world, and was working to integrate the new immigrants into Israeli society.
Raphael Ahren and JTA contributed to this report.