French and Danish Jews after the Paris and Copenhagen attacks

Following the atrocities committed in Paris in early January when 17 people were murdered in cold blood at the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and Jewish deli Hyper Cacher, people were once again shocked by the attacks in Copenhagen which resulted in the death of one person at a freedom of speech debate, followed by the death of a Jewish man on guard outside the city’s main synagogue. The perpetrators of the Paris and Copenhagen shootings were not linked, though in both instances they had two obvious goals: punishing those who, in their view, had insulted the prophet Muhammad, and targeting Jews. The number of Jewish casualties in both attacks have sparked debates about anti-Semitism which, sadly, appears to be on the rise again across Europe. This debate has been further fuelled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called for mass immigration to Israel.

“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country,” he said. “But we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe. I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: Israel is the home of every Jew”. [1]

This piece aims to provide an overview of reactions to this statement made by Netanyahu, both by mainstream as well as social media. The aim is not to present an exhaustive overview of the situation, but to present the most prevalent opinions regarding the matter. Lastly, the statements belong only to those who have put them out there for everyone to see, and do not necessarily reflect my opinions or those of Al Miraah.

Before we can begin to analyse the reactions of French and Danish Jews to Netanyahu’s call for immigration, it is important to provide some background details about both France and Denmark with regards to their Jewish communities.


France has a somewhat troubled past regarding its Jewish citizens, reaching an all-time low during the Second World War. The police in Occupied France were responsible for the roundup of a large percentage of its Jewish citizens, the biggest one being the so-called “Raffle du Vel’ d’Hiv” on 16 and 17 July 1942, during which 13,152 people were arrested, including 4,000 children. They were held in the bicycle velodrome (Vélodrome d’Hiver, “Winter Velodrome”) in inhumane conditions with almost no water, food or sanitary facilities. From there they were transported to a number of different internment camps, and ultimately to Auschwitz. This dark moment of French history was ignored for decades, due to the fact that subsequent French governments refused to apologise for or even acknowledge any kind of state complicity of atrocities committed during the war. Generations of French citizens were unaware of the role French police and civil servants had played during the war, until then-President Jacques Chirac issued an official apology on 16 July 1995.

These black hours will stain our history forever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupier was assisted (secondée) by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, on 16 July 1942, 4,500 French policemen and gendarmes, under the authority of their leaders, obeyed the demands of the Nazis. That day, in the capital and the Paris region, nearly 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested at home in the early hours of the morning, and assembled at police stations… France, home of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and of the Citizen, land of welcome and asylum, France committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners. [2]

Denmark, on the other hand, has a very different and much less troubled past with regards to its Jewish citizens. The early years of the German occupation were less severe in Denmark in comparison to surrounding countries, because Nazi Germany considered the Danish people to be part of their superior Aryan race. Therefore the government wasn’t disbanded and the Danish royal family remained in the country. However, as the war progressed, more restrictions were put on the Danish state that made life increasingly difficult for its Jewish citizens. The majority of the Danish population did everything in its power to ensure the safety of Danish Jews. Many people, including the King, began wearing the Star of David so it became practically impossible for the Nazis to distinguish between “ordinary” Danes and Jews. Most remarkable was the rescue operation the Danish resistance organised together with the government to get their Jewish citizens to safety. Using any boat they could find, they tried to get as many people as possible across the water to Sweden, which retained their neutrality during the war, before the Germans could send them to death camps. Some people thought the journey too risky, and a few boats didn’t make the crossing, but still they managed to rescue nearly 7,000 out of their 8,000-strong Jewish population. Quite a brave and remarkable feat, which is surprisingly absent from the majority of World War II accounts.

Present Day

Fast-forward 70 years, and the general attitude towards European Jewry hasn’t changed as much as we would have liked. As mentioned before, anti-Semitism is on the rise again, and one can only hope that these recent attacks aren’t simply a prelude to more of these atrocities.


The family that were having a party at the Copenhagen synagogue at the time of the attack have expressed their deep concerns regarding the safety of Jews in their country, and were critical of the lack of security measures. They said that they “have no faith in the Danish prime minister’s promise to protect their Jewish community”. [3] They were also shocked and appalled to find out that the gunman had been on the radar of the security services, yet was still walking free and able to carry out the attacks.

This shock and disdain, however, generally hasn’t significantly changed the way Denmark’s Jewish community sees their country to the extent that they want to leave it behind and start afresh. This is what Jeppe Juhl, a spokesman for the Jewish community, had to say in response to Netanyahu’s call for mass immigration: “We understand the concern for our well-being, but we are Danish and we are staying in Denmark. We’re very grateful for his concern, but it won’t be terror that makes us go to Israel”. [4]

Denmark’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Jior Melchior, expressed his disappointment regarding Netanyahu’s statement, saying that: “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel.” He continued, “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island”. [5]

While Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, of Malmö, Sweden, appreciates Israel’s gesture, he doesn’t think that this is the right approach just now. “To many Jews it’s a comfort knowing that they can move to Israel, especially after the Paris attacks when all these calls came, “Come to Israel, come to Israel,” he explains. Jews have a right to live wherever they like, and in times of terror, Israel should focus on just that”. [6]

The Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, called on the Jewish community to reject Netanyahu’s offer, stating that: “The Jewish community have been in this country for centuries. They belong in Denmark, they are part of the Danish community and we would not be the same without the Jewish community in Denmark”. [7]

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that the Israeli government will begin discussing a scheme worth US$46 million to encourage Jewish immigration from European countries. In addition to this, Economy minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement saying that: “Israel is always waiting for them [European Jews]. This will never change. Jews can and should have the right to live anywhere, but if there are Jews who are concerned about their future, we are certainly waiting for them”. [8]

Social media showed mixed reactions, both to the situation in general as well as Netanyahu’s remark. The overall sentiment that could be detected, however, was outrage. Below is merely a small selection that represent the most prevalent opinions on the matter.

Though it would seem that, considering the reactions coming from Denmark, they will not be welcoming many new Danish Jews anytime soon.


The Jewish community in France is significantly larger. In fact, it is currently the largest in all of Europe with about half a million Jewish citizens, and has had to deal with a fair share of anti-Semitic hate crimes in recent years. It is therefore not surprising that there is a lot more doubt among French Jewry about whether to stay in France or move to Israel. After the attacks last month, Netanyahu issued the following statement that was generally not well received in France: “To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place towards which you pray, the state of Israel is your home”. [9] France’s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, urged French Jews not to listen to Netanyahu’s call and remain in France. Speaking on RTL radio he said: “France is wounded with you and France does not want you to leave. France tells you again of its love, support and solidarity. That love is much stronger than the acts of hatred, even if such acts are repeated”. He also said he was “sorry” that Prime Minister Netanyahu had called on European Jews to move to Israel, saying: “The place for French Jews is France”. [10] Many French politicians have voiced strong opinions since the attacks, asking French Jews to consider staying in France, as well as making it clear that they consider their Jewish minority to form an integral part of the republic. President François Hollande assured representatives of the Jewish community gathered at the Shoah memorial in Paris, and again at the site of the desecrated graves at the Jewish cemetery in Alsace, Eastern France, that “France is your homeland. This time also, the Republic will defend you with all its might, because through you, the values, the principles, the promise of our country are all targeted”. To this, President of the Senate Gerard Larcher, also present at the Sarre-Union Jewish Cemetery, added that “the recent rise of anti-Semitism in France is undeniable. Responding to that, we declare unequivocally that French Jews are France. They are the flesh and blood of our country. This community must be protected, of course, but we must do much more than that. French Jews must be able to live a normal life, as any other French citizen”. [11] With regards to France, people on social media appear to have quite an outspoken view on the matter as well that tallies with the view about Denmark. Again the general message seems to be: stay.

Translation: Those French Jews that decide to emigrate to Israel aren’t really French before anything else. It is merely a nationality.

Translation: When Netanyahu appeals to French Jews to come to Israel, all he really does is reinforce the sentiment of being different than the rest.

Translation: I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of French Jews will stay in France, even if that means a large number of them will live in fear.

Meanwhile, judging by a number of statements made by French Jews in the media, it can be concluded that a large number of them share these sentiments. France is their home, and no amount of terror inflicted upon their community will drive them to emigrate.

One Jewish man, interviewed by magazine Le Point, made the following statement:

Je suis Français, je suis juif et je voudrais que M. Netanyahu me laisse tranquille! La judaïté n’est pas captée par la religion. C’est une culture, une tradition, une histoire qui nous permet de savoir d’où on vient’. Son drapeau, son pays, c’est “la France”. [12]

Translation: I am French, I am Jewish, and I wish that Mr. Netanyahu would just leave me alone. Judaism is more than just a religion. It is a culture, a tradition, a history that allows us to know where we come from. His flag, his country, is France.

French journalist Raphaël Cékiraf, a Jew who has spent time in Israel, formulated his views on the matter in the following way:

Je suis de confession juive et je suis né en France. C’est mon pays maternel. Mais j’ai aussi vécu neuf ans en Israël et j’ai la double nationalité. C’est mon pays culturel, spirituel. Un jour, je repartirai là-bas. Mais pas maintenant. Quand je le ferai, ce ne sera pas en réponse au climat qui règne en France. Je suis revenu ici pour remplir une mission: celle de transmettre le judaïsme. Aujourd’hui, je suis à la tête d’une association d’étudiants juifs. Au vu de la situation actuelle, je me sens d’autant plus utile en France en ce moment. Alors, je refuse de réagir sur le coup de l’émotion. Je ne veux pas fuir, mais au contraire, résister, même si, en France, la situation devient de plus en plus dangereuse pour les juifs. [13]

Translation: I’m Jewish and I was born in France. It’s my motherland. But I also spent nine years living in Israel and I have dual citizenship. It is my cultural and spiritual home. One day I will return to Israel. But not right now. When I do, it will not be in response to the current climate in France. I returned with a specific goal in mind, which is to spread Judaism. I am currently the head of a Jewish students’ association. Considering the current climate I feel more useful being in France. Therefore I refuse to react to the current surge of panic and emotions. I don’t want to flee. On the contrary, I want to resist, even if the situation in France becomes increasingly dangerous for Jews.

Regardless of these bold statements, sentiments that are shared by many French Jews, statistics show that a large number do in fact consider to move to Israel. Not only does France have the largest Jewish population in all of Europe, but in 2014 the biggest percentage of European Jews who emigrated to Israel were, in fact, French. A total of 6,658 French Jews emigrated in 2014, whereas only 13 Danish Jews made the move.

Les juifs d'Europe

In addition to this, statistics have shown that the number of French Jews that have emigrated to Israel have nearly tripled in the last ten years. In the graph shown below it can be seen that these figures tally with the “actes et menaces antisémites” (anti-Semitic acts or threats), which have increased significantly as well.

Les départs de juifs de France

One thing which is undeniable is that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher has significantly increased the interest in the possibility of emigration to Israel among French Jews.

Data from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Jewish Agency shows that 11,000 individuals called the telephone centre of the Jewish Agency in France in January showing interest in making Aliyah to Israel – compared to 84,000 calls placed during all of 2014.

The spark in interest in immigration to Israel comes a month after four Jewish Frenchmen were killed when an armed terrorist stormed a kosher supermarket located in the outskirts of Paris’. [14]

Lastly, one member of the Jewish community in France has come up with an alternative solution which, in his view, is more favourable than leaving everything behind and moving to a different country. Charley Daian, president of the Consistoire of the Jewish community in Limoges, southern France, made the suggestion that French Jews should move away from Paris and other major French cities.

We’re not Zionists, we are French, said Daian, who heads the local branch of the organization responsible for providing religious services to French Jewish communities and individuals. One should not join Israel because of fear but out as a calling, he told the news site []. A small, warm and very lovely community would be happy to welcome in its large and beautiful synagogue Jewish families wishing to flee the Paris region and its suburbs with their rampant anti-Semitic violence, the ad reads. The Jewish community of Limoges is by contrast calm, of pleasant population in the centre of France, only three hours from Paris. [15]

Around 350,000 out of France’s half a million strong Jewish population live in the Paris region. Whether making the move to more rural areas of France is a viable and realistic alternative remains to be seen, but it is undeniably a less radical, life-changing alternative to joining the Aliyah.


It is difficult to draw any conclusions when discussing current events, especially when a situation is still ongoing. One thing that can be established is that the dominant sentiment is a wish for European Jews to remain where they are, and pleas to disregard Netanyahu’s calls for immigration. This is also the message that’s been carried out by heads of state and heads of government, as well as the European Union. Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission, stated on the French news last week that:

Jews form an intricate part of “our” Europe, and of European history. They are part of our society. We can’t have a Europe where our Jewish population doesn’t feel at home. Jews, like any other minority, are an integral part of European society. We have to fight to create a place of safety, of security where Jews can feel at ease, where they can feel at home. Because they are home. [16]

So the message from European politicians and the general public is clear. They do not wish to see mass-immigration of “their” Jews to Israel become reality. Yet each and every one of us needs to realise that, in order for this to be the case, we will have to work extremely hard to make anti-Semitism a thing of the past.




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