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Posted by on Mar 11, 2007 in Religion | 28 comments

French Jews Fleeing Into Florida

Over the past few years there have been reports of French Jews relocating or even being urged to relocate by some Jewish groups and now there’s a new twist:

French Jews are fleeing into Florida, the Miami Herald reports. And it’s providing a booming business for Florida immigration lawyers:

Rod Kukurudz decided to uproot his family from a comfortable life in France to Surfside when his then 16-year-old daughter, Audrey, came home one night in 2005 — upset and fearful.

”Dad,” she told him, ”now even if it’s hot I have to wear a scarf to hide my Star of David,” while riding the Paris Metro.

French Jews living in South Florida told The Miami Herald that hostility from Islamic militants in France after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States spurred them to leave. Departures surged after last year’s abduction and death of Ilan Halimi in France.

The 23-year-old Halimi, a French Jew of Moroccan parents, was kidnapped Jan. 21, 2006, by a gang of youths calling themselves the “Barbarians.”

”The atmosphere created by that episode, plus other incidents and the general hostility of Muslims in France toward Jews, is what’s behind my decision to leave,” said Kukurudz, who now lives with his wife and their three daughters, including Audrey, in Surfside.

Vanessa Elmaleh is among a growing number of South Florida immigration attorneys helping French Jews secure U.S. visas — but not necessarily asylum.

So it’s being done perhaps a bit more under the political radar:

Immigration court figures show a slight uptick in the number of asylum applications from French nationals starting in 2003 — but those figures do not specify whether applicants were French Jews. South Florida immigration attorneys say the majority of French Jews are arriving on immigrant, investor and business visas…

The Herald notes that a new State Department human rights reports say anti-semitic incidents are down in France from the same period in 2004 but up from the same period last year. The French government condemns any such incidents.

”France is not an anti-Semitic country,” Philippe Vinogradoff, France’s consul general in Miami, told The Miami Herald on Thursday. “France is doing a lot of efforts in its jurisdiction, in its education system, to eradicate definitively any trace of anti-Semitism.”

France’s Jewish population has been variously estimated at between 500,000 and 700,000 and its Muslim population at five million to six million. But French Jews here say the community has been depleted by frequent departures, the majority to Israel. Jewish Agency.figures show that almost 14,000 French Jews have resettled in Israel since 2001.

But the situation has become perceived as increasingly perilous for Jews in France. By 2005, some French Jews were bombproofing their schools.

France boasts a growing and increasingly politically powerful Muslim community. After World War II there was a large influex of Muslims into France mostly from Algeria and then-North Africa colonies because of labor needs coupled with the collapse of France’s colonies. These immigrants were allowed to bring their families over. The second generation is not designated “immigrants” but some have charged that they are exposed to social discrimination and feel like and are being treated as if they are immigrants.

This perception contributed to riots in France in 2005. The CBC:

Media accounts of the riots that spread across France in the fall of 2005 lay the blame squarely on a racist society that has marginalized the children and grandchildren of North African immigrants.

While there is no denying that racism is a factor, we need to dig deeper if we are to understand the violence, say immigration experts.

“There are many other factors involved,” Jeffrey Reitz, a University of Toronto sociology professor who studies ethnicity and immigration, told CBC News Online. “It’s not the immigrants, but their children, who are a very different group of people.”

Reitz says that, in general, when immigrants compare their situation in their adopted country to the life they left behind, they usually find things are better, even if they are discriminated against. And if things don’t improve, they often have the option of returning home.

“The second generation can’t go back as easily and have been told in school they should be treated equally. When it doesn’t happen, there’s disappointment,” says Reitz.

In 2003, the Anti-Defamation League ran an assessment of antisemitism in France. Among other things, it noted that the Jewish community in France is of a “broad spectrum,” second only to the United States’. The 1990s strengthened the links between France and the Jewish community. The Jewish community is highly supportive of Israel.

And the storm clouds?

Forewarning events occurred in the past two decades: the terrorist attacks on the Copernic synagogue in 1980 and on the Goldenberg restaurant in 1982, both in Paris; the desecration of the Jewish cemetery of Carpentras (South of France) in 1990; the rise of the extreme right-wing in Europe and in France itself with the party of Jean-Marie Le Pen since the early Eighties; changes occurring within the French society itself trying to absorb with great pain a large Arab Muslim community; the discovery by the French of their true history of World War II, of the war of Algeria and of the end of colonization; the revival of anti-Semitism clad in new dresses and the denial of the Holocaust.

Many reasons brought to the current situation in France and in Europe, leading to anti-Semitic attacks.

It provides a review of some incidents and problems in recent years. And then this:

In this listing of causes I must add the extreme left-wing political groups who served as hothouses in the Sixties and Seventies for today’s leading writers in the French media.

I have to quote also the regrettable statements, exposed by a leading French daily, of a French academic and an adviser to the Socialist Party, Pascal Boniface, who made the Socialist leaders aware of Arithmetics 101: political decisions should be made according to simple accountancy rules, Arab votes outnumber Jewish votes by ten to one in France, explained Boniface.
There are many more details in this report that provide the context for some of the problems including allegations of anti-semetism in state run schools. The French government, the report says, has tried to clamp down on this problem by more oversight.

The report concludes:

We do not think we are living in France in a particularly anti-Semitic environment. It is obvious to us that there is a revival of anti-Semitism in several other countries. There are beyond the shadow of a doubt sociological and historic distinctive features in France putting us Jews in a rather sensitive position, but I hope we will have the means to overcome this situation…Allow me to insist upon the fact that the Jews in France are facing a crisis that is part of a much broader national issue involving sociology, demography, economy and politics. It would be unrealistic to try and assess our own problems without replacing them within a larger reality of which we are part and parcel.

And that’s also part of the context within which news of Jews flocking into Florida need to be placed.