Jewish immigration to Israel from western Europe has reached an all-time high as a result of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, a leading non-profit group said Thursday, as France’s beleaguered Jewish community grapples with whether to refrain from wearing Jewish skull caps for their own safety.
The Jewish Agency, which works closely with the Israeli government and acts as a link to Jews around the world, said that 9,880 western European Jews immigrated to Israel in 2015 – the highest annual number ever.
The figure is more than 10% over the previous year and more than double the 2013 level.
The vast majority, close to 8,000, came from France, where a rise in anti-Semitic attacks has shattered the sense of security of the world’s third-largest Jewish population.
Just this week, a machete-wielding teenager attacked a Jewish teacher in the southern French city of Marseille, prompting a local Jewish authority to ask fellow Jews to refrain from wearing their traditional skullcaps to stay safe.
That sparked counter calls from other French and Jewish officials who said such a move would be a capitulation to terror.
Close to 800 Jews emigrated from Britain in 2015. Italy and Belgium were next on the list.
“That a record number of European Jews feel that Europe is no longer their home should alarm European leaders and serve as a wake-up call for all who are concerned about the future of Europe,” said Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
“At the same time, the fact that Israel has become the number one destination for European Jews seeking to build a better future elsewhere is a tribute to the appeal of life in Israel and the values the Jewish state represents.”
Experts say European Jews have not felt this threatened since the Second World War, when six million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. Jews have been targeted in Belgium, Denmark and other European countries, but France has seen the worst of it.
Jews have increasingly reported assaults and intimidation, mostly from Muslim extremists. While some attacks have been linked to anger at Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, most have been anti-Semitic in nature.
France’s Jewish community of some 500,000 is the largest in Europe. Jewish schools and synagogues are often surrounded by soldiers in combat fatigues who patrol the streets with automatic rifles. Though Jews make up less than 1% of the population, French officials say more than 50% of all reported racist attacks in 2014 were directed against them.
On Tuesday, Zvi Ammar, a Jewish community leader in Marseille, said he is asking Jews to go without skullcaps “until better days.” Observant Jews wear a skullcap, or kippa in Hebrew, in a sign of reverence to a higher power above them.
Ammar’s call came a day after a 15-year-old Turkish Kurd attacked and wounded a Jewish teacher on a street in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, then told police after his arrest that he acted in the name of the Islamic State group.