The Jewish Agency is reporting a sharp rise in the number of French immigrants to Israel in 2014. At 1,407 people moving in the first quarter of the year, it represents an almost fourfold increase from last year’s 353 in the same period.
“This phenomenon is speeding up,” said Ariel Kandel, the head of the Jewish Agency’s French chapter.
“We will not finish the year with four times more the number than in 2013, but if the current rhythm continues, there will be more than 5,000 French people leaving for Israel, something that has never happened since its creation in 1948,” he said.
Among the reasons cited by Kandel for the uptick in aliyah were the “climate of anti-Semitism” in the country and the current state of the French economy.
France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, estimated at 500,000 members. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, some 90,000 French Jews have moved to the Jewish homeland. This includes 1,907 who came in 2012 and another 3,280 last year.
The state of affairs in France is gloomy, with a recent EU Fundamental Rights Agency poll showing 40% of French Jewry afraid to identify themselves publicly as Jews. Overall, 75% of European Jews polled feel that anti-Semitism is on the rise.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, in his annual report on immigration to Israel, noted that the percentage of French Jews immigrating to Israel was seven times that of American Jews. In fact, an aliyah fair held in Paris last month drew thousands to hear about options in housing, schools and employment. The Israeli government, through the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Jewish Agency, recently announced it would earmark between four and five million dollars for activities and programs run by the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization and the United Israel Appeal aimed at promoting aliyah from France.
The Jewish Agency also reported a rise in young people interested in “Israel experience” programs. Bac Bleu Blanc, an agency program promoting “opportunities for life in Israel” for high school graduates, currently has 1,000 participants in programs across the country, with another 1,000 registered for upcoming programs.