More than 1/4 of French Jews considering emigration, poll says

NEW YORK — French Jews have grown so disgusted with anti-Semitism that more than one quarter of them are considering emigrating.

That's according to a new survey of the 500,000-member French Jewish community, the second largest in the diaspora.

The poll was conducted by The Israel Project, which previously measured American attitudes about Jews and Israel in order to produce pro-Israel ads.

According to the poll, 26 percent of those surveyed said they have considered emigrating due to worsening French anti-Semitism.

Among those polled, 13 percent are "seriously" considering leaving, according to Washington pollster Stan Greenberg, who led the surveys and focus groups.

The mood among French Jews is like a "severe depression," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a founder of The Israel Project.

However, CRIF, the main umbrella organization for French Jewry, criticized the survey, saying American Jews simply do not understand the French community.

"U.S. Jews have a complex because they didn't help the Jews of Europe during the Second World War," CRIF spokeswoman Edith Lenczner said.

The poll "doesn't anywhere near correspond with CRIF figures, which were conducted with a far larger sample group," she said.

The Israel Project survey was carried out among 493 French Jews between Nov. 29 and Dec. 18, and two 12-person focus groups on Oct. 22 and 23. It had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

San Francisco demographer Gary Tobin was skeptical of the results. "It would be difficult to make an assessment about emigration from France based on one survey of less than 500 people and two focus groups. We would need much more follow up."

In addition, "Statements of intent to move, even for those moving from one house to another in the same neighborhood, and actual movement are two different things. Very often what you have are people's wishes, anxieties, hopes, anger, but not necessarily a commitment to do something," Tobin said.

"Does this study truly capture the likelihood of geographical relocation? To me the answer is no," said Tobin, who heads the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. "Is it putting its finger on the fact that French Jews are remarkably concerned about rising anti-Semitism? That part of the survey is credible. It's no surprise, given the virulent anti-Semitism that's spreading through Europe, especially in France, that French Jews are registering their concern."

In fact, some 82 percent of respondents say anti-Semitism is a serious problem in France and 78 percent say it has deepened in the past few years.

Moreover, 38 percent of respondents say they personally have been the targets of anti-Semitic incidents, and 58 percent say they know friends or relatives who have been singled out.

Only 30 percent say they don't know anyone who has experienced some form of anti-Semitism.

Most of those who are thinking of leaving — 64 percent — have been victims of anti-Semitism, whether physical attacks, verbal assaults or some other form of anti-Jewish behavior.

"They felt attacked by anti-Semitism — that could mean either verbally or some kind of pressure, not necessarily that they got beat over the head on the way to school," Laszlo Mizrahi said. "But it's like sexual harassment — if you feel it, you feel it."

Anti-Semitism has grown so virulent in France that many observant Jews disguise the fact that they wear yarmulkes, she said.

In fact, religious and Sephardic Jews are more likely to have experienced anti-Semitism, and thus more likely to want to leave.

"As relatively recent immigrants, these Jews are less integrated into French society and have less confidence in French institutions than secular and Ashkenazi Jews," Greenberg said in a memo summarizing his findings.

Not surprisingly, those who want to leave are more pessimistic about possibilities for the future in France.

Only 4 percent of French Jews see improvements on the horizon.

Fully 86 percent of those considering leaving are eyeing Israel, compared with 60 percent who would think of moving to the United States.

"It's interesting that they consider Israel safer than France," Laszlo Mizrahi said.