On the day after Islamist terrorists massacred 12 people in the heart of Paris, committing what some called France’s 9/11, Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky resisted the temptation to use the tragedy to push for upped immigration to Israel from an increasingly dangerous France.
“We’re not building our aliyah strategy on tragic events. We’re building it on the fact that there is this place in the world called Europe, where Jews are feeling increasingly uncomfortable,” he said Thursday.
Sharansky predicted more than 10,000 French Jews will move to Israel in the course of 2015 — breaking 2014’s record number of 7,000 new Francophone immigrants — amid a reported uptick in anti-Semitic incidents there and across Europe.
“We have to make sure that Israel is very attractive choice for them. And that’s already happening,” said Sharansky the former Soviet Prisoner of Zion who was finally allowed to come to Israel in 1986.
Over the next two decades, indeed, he expects some 250,000 immigrants from France — a sizable portion of Europe’s largest Jewish community, which according to various counts numbers between 600,000 and 1 million.
While Sharansky, whose agency is a quasi-governmental institution with widespread responsibilities for immigration and absorption, said the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine wouldn’t impact Jewish immigration numbers, he did see it as a wake up call that the very essence of a free Europe is a stake.
France can only be saved from the depths of violence and terror if authorities make some dramatic changes to the way they deal with Muslim immigration, he said, shedding political correctness in favor of candor.
“This particular tragedy is a very tragic and powerful reminder for Europe that the time is running out for them — not for European Jews,” Sharansky said, adding that European Jewry’s exodus from the continent is a work that has been in process for several years already. But non-Jewish Europeans should take note and act before it’s too late, he warned.
“If France and the other Western nations will not fight quickly and strongly for reestablishing the civilization of liberal nations, Europe is in danger,” he said. “The exodus of Jews, as many times in the past, is the first harbinger, a warning of where it goes.”
In the aftermath of the attack, the world is likely focus on how to catch and punish the presumed perpetrators — chiefly among them Cherif and Said Kouachi, two French-born brothers of Algerian descent.
But Sharansky, a former Knesset member and government minister, also called on Paris to grapple with how it can act to stop young Frenchmen from becoming radicalized and turning to terrorism.
France has to make a clear decision to abandon cultural relativism and accept that human rights are an absolute value
People must realize that the problem is the belief that all cultures are equal and that France can allow Muslim immigrants to continue adhering to their archaic traditions while refusing to accept the country’s liberal values, he said. “Events like these give an opportunity to think, to make some very dramatic decisions,” Sharansky said.
He blamed the country’s conscious and intentional decision to embrace “policies of post-nationalism, post-modernism and multi-culturalism,” which undermined the liberty and freedom of speech enshrined by the French Revolution. “It was an ideological decision of this post-modern Europe, that all cultures have the same values and therefore we cannot demand from them to change, to betray their culture for the sake of ours.”
Large parts of France’s huge Muslim immigrant community don’t feel loyal to the liberal values of society, he asserted, and this idea is trickling into French schools. “There are many schools where teachers can not only not mention the Holocaust, but not teach the values of the French Revolution, because parents insists kids are to be brought up with a different ideology,” he said.
More than bolstering security or passing new legislation, France has to make a clear decision to abandon cultural relativism and accept that human rights are an absolute value, Sharansky argued. “And if for them religion is more important than human rights, who are we to demand from them to be different? That was one of the basic axioms of multiculturalism, which created inside the society of a proud liberal nation a society of people who believe they can really challenge freedom of speech by terror,” he said.
France’s error was to give citizenship to millions without demanding that they share French values, and it made this mistake because it was believes that values are something relative, Sharansky continued.
The French stance ought to be that “if you want to become a citizen of France you should have to accept that the culture that you will live in is the culture of human rights and liberty. And if you don’t want this, if you say, ‘Sorry, but my culture is that of the Koran,’ then you can be the citizen of some other country.”
The United States, noted Sharansky, has absorbed more Muslims than Europe but doesn’t have the same problem of integration, because the Americans ascertain that immigrants adopt American values. “The French should go back to the principles of the French Revolution, of a liberal national state.”
It will be more difficult now to deal with problematic immigrants who have already obtained French citizenship, he said. But the authorities might be able to expel those who actively fight the values of the Republic. Certainly schools, mosques and institutions that preach the rejection of France’s liberal values should be closed, he insisted.
Banning the burqa — a garment covering the whole body, worn by some Muslim women — or restricting the number of immigrants entering the country will not do the trick, Sharansky said. In fact, he defended people’s right to wear whatever they want, and was much more concerned with the obligation that people respect society’s fundamental values such as freedom of speech and religious pluralism.
“You cannot interpret very archaic traditions of the society from which you came, to take the lives of members of your community. That issue is far more important than how they’re dressed.”
France’s devaluation of the nation state has also contributed to the country’s increasing hostility toward Zionism and Israel, and thus indirectly boosts aliyah, Sharansky went on. “It’s not only because specific aspects of [French foreign] policy, [including] the very idea of a national state, are viewed as something [that belongs to] the past. Nationalism leads to wars, according to this post-modern thinking, that’s why a new world without nationalities and without religious and national identities was created to try to avoid war. The proponents of such thinking believe this to be real progress and consider the Jews’ desire to create their own state to be backward. “The idea of Israel as a Jewish national state becomes less and less popular in liberal France,” he said.
Assimilated Jews can live comfortably and without fear in France, he continued. But for those who don’t want to assimilate, Israel is extremely important. Being confronted with this post-nationalism almost everywhere they go makes their lives more complicated. These are the Jews who are making aliyah in large numbers, Sharansky said.
“Those French Jews are coming because they didn’t want to be assimilated. For them it’s so comfortable [once they come to Israel] that they don’t have to be concerned every day about whether their children will be part of Jewish culture and history. It’s a big relief for them.”
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