A France bereft of 100,000 Jews would be deemed a failure, the country’s prime minister said last week, before a terror attack on a kosher market left four Jewish men dead and spurred renewed calls for immigration to Israel.
Manuel Valls told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that “France would no longer be France,” if Jews fled the country en masse, in an interview published early Sunday.
“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,” he said.
Valls echoed the statement on Saturday outside Paris’s HyperCacher market, calling for a millions-strong march against terror a day after an Islamist gunman killed four men and held several more people hostage before being killed by police.
“France without Jews is not France,” he said.
The attacks re-raised the specter of increased Jewish immigration from France and the rest of Europe to Israel.
France, home to some 650,000 Jews — the second largest Diaspora community after the US — sent a record 7,000 Jews to Israel in 2014, amid fears of increasing anti-Semitism.
Speaking to the Times of Israel last week, after two brothers killed 12 people at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky said he saw 10,000 French Jews moving to Israel in 2015, and 250,000 over the next 20 years.
However, Valls said before the attacks that the French Republic had been founded on equal rights being extended to Jews, but that was being threatened with an admitted rise in anti-Semitism coming from an influx of Muslim immigrants.
“There is a new anti-Semitism in France. We have the old anti-Semitism, and I’m obviously not downplaying it, that comes from the extreme right, but 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,” he said.
The last decade has seen a series of high profile attacks on Jews, including the kidnapping and brutal murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006 and a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 that left four people dead, including a rabbi and three children.
During the summer, a number of anti-Israel rallies turned violent, including one in which Jewish worshipers were trapped inside a synagogue.
Following the Friday attack on the HyperCacher market, Israeli leaders upped calls for Jews to make for 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 a televised statement, referring to the Jewish practice of facing Jerusalem during prayer.
Other Israeli leaders echoed the call to French and European Jews to come to Israel.
And the Deputy Knesset speaker, MK Yoni Chetboun, who heads the Knesset’s French-Israeli caucus, called on the government to declare France an “emergency target” for immigration to Israel.
The freshman lawmaker said that in light of the recent events in France, thousands of French Jews are expected to knock on the doors of the Jewish Agency and inquire about immigration.
Valls, though, indicated that French Jews should be shown they do not need to flee the country.
“The Jews of France are profoundly attached to France but they need reassurance that they are welcome here, that they are secure here,” he said.