The half million or so Jews in France may not be coming to Israel tomorrow, but with a rise in anti-Semitism in recent years they may find themselves having no choice but to emigrate later, if not sooner. But those who decide to stay in France still want to engage with Israel – if not by living there, then economically.
“There’s a reason so many French Jews are buying real estate in Israel,” Roger Cukierman told the Times of Israel. “Many French Jews of means have been planning aliyah for years. Some 20,000 have come to Israeli in the past few years, and many have bought homes here.”
Cukierman knows French Jewry as well as anyone possibly can. The 79-year old Cukierman serves as president of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), the umbrella group that represents most Jewish groups in France. He is also a Vice President of the World Jewish Congress.
Cukierman was in Israel for the annual Go4Israel conference in Tel Aviv, which is organized and sponsored by the investment firm Cukierman & Co., headed by Edouard Cukierman – son of Roger Cukierman, and one of Israel’s leading investors in Europe and China.
‘Israel as a country and Israelis as business partners have a lot to offer worldwide’
Considered one of the most important gatherings of international investors in Israel, the Go4Israel, which took place in Tel Aviv last month, discussed issues relevant to investors and start-ups, including raising funds and establishing strategic alliances between corporate, entrepreneurs and investors from around the world. Companies presenting at the event included firms in hi-tech, life sciences, renewable energy and others.
Among the investors was a large delegation from Europe – particularly France – and from China.
“With an increasing presence of Chinese investors at the Go4Israel conference, which are now the world leaders in investments in Israel, we can help open new global opportunities and create new relationships between entrepreneurs and international investors,” said Edouard Cukierman. “Israel as a country and Israelis as business partners have a lot to offer worldwide.”
While the attention was largely on China, Roger Cukierman said that it was important not to dismiss Europe. “Despite its many problems, from the inundation of the continent with immigrants to the resurgence of Russia as a major power, as well as the anemic economic growth in many EU countries, the EU is not going away, and it will remain an important trading partner for Israel.”
That includes France, of course. Trade between Israel and France was worth about $3 billion in 2014, an increase of 3.4% over the previous year.
French trade delegations are a frequent sight in Israel, and last June, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who personally led a delegation of over 100 business people, said that France did not believe in boycotting Israel.
“This is not the way France intends to conduct itself,” Sarkozy said in a visit to Jerusalem Venture Partners, where he checked out start-ups in communications, cybersecurity and mobile app technology – expressing a strong desire that some of them partner with French companies and teach them the secrets of start-up success.
At a press conference, Sarkozy said he had just one question for his hosts at the offices of JVP. “How,” asked Sarkozy, “did Israel become the Start-Up Nation?”
But France’s desire to partner with Israeli start-ups doesn’t make French Jews safer, said Roger Cukierman. “Jews have been in France for 2,000 years, and we have an illustrious history… But now we feel like second class citizens, protected by the police and the army.”
The straws that broke the anti-Semitic camel’s back, of course, were the 2012 attacks on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in Toulouse, in which four people, including three children, were killed, and the January 2015 siege and murders at the Hyper Cacher in Paris, which saw four Jewish hostages murdered.
But those were just the tip of the iceberg, said Cukierman. “We have annually 1,000 reported acts of violence against Jews, mostly by Muslims, and it is likely there are more that go unreported. Jews no longer send their children to public school, out of fear of violence – choosing to pay at Jewish day schools, private secular schools and even Christian schools, which often are the only private schools with space.”
Armed guards are a feature of Jewish life today, with the government deploying 10,000 soldiers to protect Jewish institutions and communities. “It’s comforting to know that they care about us,
but when a parent sees this they wonder if there is a future in this country,” said Cukierman.
While many French Jews are leaving, most will likely stay, said Cukierman – with one hand on their suitcase. Those that do remain, however, will be looking to Israel for succor and encouragement – and for investment opportunities, hoping to preserve their money in an economy that many feel has better prospects than France’s, and symbolizes their connection to their prospective homeland.
And French Jews can do Israel a good turn, too. “We can be a bridge between Europe, Israel and Asia, helping to grow Israel’s high-tech economy and enhancing business relations with companies in France and Europe,” said Cukierman.
Regardless of its attitude to Jews, France, along with much of the rest of Europe, is anxious to partner with Israel and take advantage of its great advances in technology, medicine, security and much more, he added.
“When you put brains together in dynamic companies in different countries, you create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. French Jewry can be a great asset in that effort.”