Leaving an Increasingly Hostile France, a Fast-Growing Immigrant Group Is Making Its Own Mark on Israel

Oct. 28 2022

In the past decade, according to official Israel statistics, 41,860 French Jews have resettled in Israel, a not-insignificant proportion of France’s Jewish population of roughly 500,000. As Matti Friedman observes, this wave of immigrants has begun to leave a mark on the Jewish state:

Because the condition of Jews is a barometer of events anywhere, and because Israel has always been a barometer of Jewish life in other places, in Israel you can sense events far away. Even without ever watching the news this year, for example, you’d notice unusual numbers of Ukrainians around, and young Russian speakers with fashionable sneakers just off the plane from Sheremetyevo, bewildered and traveling light, and you’d know that something fateful is happening in and around the Russian Federation.

[Now] the French have assumed a solid shape in the shared imagination of the Israeli public—not the older clichés of de Gaulle or Yves Montand, but that of a traditional Jew, less European than Mediterranean, Casablanca via Paris, God-fearing, life-loving, right-leaning, the imprint of a Star of David necklace sunburned onto the chest after too many hours at the beach. The beach at Netanya, of course, because with all due respect to Jerusalem, it’s Netanya, on the coast north of Tel Aviv, that’s seen as the holy city of the French. On a recent afternoon in a local playground there, nearly all of the young families seemed to be Francophone.

What brings these Jews to leave the land of their birth? One tells Friedman that he came to Israel as a teenager because moving there was his parents’ “dream.” Another simply says that he came because his wife wanted to. But there are other factors as well:

Tension in the neighborhoods where French Jews and Muslims had lived in close proximity built up to the 2006 incident mentioned in nearly every conversation with French immigrants: the killing of twenty-three-year-old Ilan Halimi, who was kidnapped and tortured for more than three weeks by a group of young Muslims calling themselves the “Gang of Barbarians.” His body was found by a road on the outskirts of Paris, French authorities denied at first that hatred of Jews had anything to do with it, and immigration numbers more than doubled the following year.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Aliyah, France, French Jewry, Israeli society

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia