Share story

PARIS — French Jews, already feeling under siege by anti-Semitism, say the trauma of the terrorist attacks last week has left them scared, angry, unsure of their future in France and increasingly willing to consider conflict-torn Israel as a safer refuge.

“It is a war here,” said Jacqueline Cohen, owner of an art store on Rue des Rosiers in a Jewish neighborhood lined with falafel and Judaica shops where many businesses were closed Monday morning. “After what happened, we feel safer in the center of Tel Aviv than we do here in the heart of Paris.”

“In Israel, there is an Iron Dome to protect us,” she added, referring to Israel’s anti-missile defense system. “Here we feel vulnerable and exposed. We are afraid to send our children to school.”

Residents said their worry intensified after Friday’s terrorist attack, when a heavily armed Frenchman, Amedy Coulibaly, stormed the kosher Hyper Cacher supermarket in Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris, killing four hostages and holding others captive.

So acute is the sense of insecurity among Jews that Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, said the four supermarket victims were to be buried in Jerusalem on Tuesday, partly because of fears that their graves would be desecrated in France.

Cwajgenbaum said that the attack at the supermarket was a tipping point for French Jews after a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks, including the tossing of firebombs and attacks on synagogues and shops in Jewish neighborhoods in Paris that coincided with Israel’s incursion in Gaza last summer. A French-born man was accused of gunning down four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels in May.

France was the largest source of Jews moving to Israel last year, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which coordinates migration to Israel. Its director, Natan Sharansky, predicted that up to 15,000 French Jews would emigrate this year, and that more than 50,000 French Jews would leave in the next few years.

There are roughly 500,000 Jews in France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish population.

“There is enormous anxiety, a lot of anger and bitterness and a feeling that the Jewish community in France is under siege,” Cwajgenbaum said. “It has become evident that there is an internal war against the Jews being waged by Islamic radicals in this country, and people are very upset that the judicial system and the security apparatus were not able to thwart the attack.”

Even before this latest attack, many Jews were afraid after Mohammed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian roots, killed seven people in 2012 in Toulouse, including three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school.

In January 2013, a series of shows by Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a comedian of French and West African heritage, were banned by the French authorities. He had said it was a shame that a Jewish journalist had not been killed in the gas chambers. He has also drawn criticism for popularizing a gesture that resembles a Nazi salute.

On his Facebook page after Sunday’s unity march, Dieudonné wrote: “As far as I am concerned, I feel I am Charlie Coulibaly,” alluding to the “I am Charlie” rallying cry that took hold after the terror attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Monday it was investigating to determine whether Dieudonné had promoted terrorism.

The French authorities said thousands of police officers and soldiers would be deployed to protect Jewish schools and other “sensitive sites,” in one of the country’s biggest peacetime security operations. In Paris’ Marais district, two soldiers wearing camouflage gear and holding guns were seen patrolling near a Jewish school.

French leaders, fearing the consequences of an exodus of Jews from France, have issued robust expressions of support. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Saturday that “France without Jews is not France.”

President François Hollande, wearing a skullcap, joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at a commemoration event at the Grand Synagogue of Paris on Sunday. He had already deplored the attack as a horrific act of anti-Semitism.

But Jewish residents said the new security measures were not enough to restore frayed nerves. Some said they were already planning to pack their bags for Israel, urged on by Netanyahu, who told French Jews on Sunday that they would be welcomed with “open arms.”

On Monday, Netanyahu stopped by the targeted kosher supermarket and met with one of the rescued hostages. A large group of Jewish residents roared its applause and waved Israeli flags.

Netanyahu, like many Jews here, singled out Islamic terrorism as the biggest threat to Jews in France and beyond.

“A direct line leads between the attacks of extremist Islam around the world to the attack that took place here at a kosher supermarket in the heart of Paris,” he said.

Sharansky said the attacks in Paris had helped reinforce the deepest insecurity among French Jews since World War II. He said a record 7,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel from France in 2014 — the largest number since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and the largest last year among global Jewery to make “aliyah,” the Hebrew word for immigration that means “to ascend.”

He said that 1,000 people had arrived by 1 p.m. at a fair on emigration to Israel held at the agency Sunday.

“It is not just because of one terrorist attack, but a series of attacks against Jews,” he said. “Already, rabbis have been telling people not to wear” their skullcaps on the streets.

While some critics have accused Netanyahu of exploiting a tragedy by encouraging French Jews to flock to Israel, Sharansky argued that Israel, as the Jewish state, had a moral imperative to offer safe refuge to Jews.

He said that Israel was not seeking to use terrorism to encourage people to emigrate, as “terror is bad for Zionism, as it encourages Jews to be afraid and to assimilate.”

Many Jews in the crowd outside the kosher supermarket Monday said their French identity existed proudly alongside their Jewish one, and complained that criticism of the Israeli government and its treatment of the Palestinians was being projected on Jews.

They said the recent passage by the French National Assembly of a nonbinding resolution recognizing a Palestinian state had fanned tensions.

Sylvain Zenouda, the vice president of a French anti-Semitism organization, was among the crowd gathered to meet Netanyahu.

He said he was having flashbacks to the 1960s, when he and his family fled Morocco for France amid fears about violence against Jews.

“In the 1960s, we packed our bags overnight and fled,” said Zenouda, who has three children. “This time we will take our time and won’t flee in the night. But Jews will leave for Israel where we can feel safe.”

Some Jewish residents said that in recent days they had found themselves looking resentfully and fearfully at women wearing headscarves and at young Muslim men.

“I don’t feel fear,” Cohen said. “I feel hatred.” Yet, she said, for the time being, she will not leave France.

“Leaving would be caving in to terrorism,” she said. “If we leave, the terrorists win.”