STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Thousands of demonstrators marched in Paris yesterday. It was the latest in a series of protests against Israel's actions in Gaza. Now, two previous demonstrations ended in violence and the violence heightened a perception among some French Jews that they face growing anti-Semitism. France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, but French Jews are leaving in unprecedented numbers. Some cite the bad economy. Some say they no longer feel safe. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A Paris synagogue is overflowing during a goodbye ceremony for the latest group of Jews to move to Israel. So far this year, more than 2,000 French Jews have moved there, up from 580 during the same period last year. The total number of departures this year is expected to surpass 5,000. Immigrating to Israel, known as making aliyah, is usually a cause for celebration, but this year, in France, it's tinged with bitterness.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: (Singing in Hebrew).
BEARDSLEY: High-profile anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise. Four people were gunned down outside the Jewish Museum in neighboring Belgium in May. And three Jewish schoolchildren and a teacher were killed in the southern city of Toulouse a few years ago. Both acts were carried out by young Frenchmen of North African descent, who had recently returned from fighting alongside extremists in the Middle East.
STEVEN TAIEB: (French spoken).
MEYER ZOUARI: (French spoken).
BEARDSLEY: Twenty-two-year-old Steven Taieb and Meyer Zouari are at the ceremony. They're leaving their families to move to Israel this summer. Armed with computer science degrees, they hope to find good jobs. Though both boys say they've always wanted to move to the Holy Land, they say the recent climate precipitated their departure. Zouari's father, David, believes his son made the right decision.
D. ZOUARI: (Through translator) France is no longer the beautiful country it was. It's being invaded. Its secularism is being compromised. All you see are women wearing veils now and mosques are sprouting up everywhere. France is turning into a Muslim country.
UNIDENTIFIED RABBI: (French spoken).
BEARDSLEY: The Rabbi reminds the congregation of its attachment to France, the first country to give Jews full rights in 1791. Ever since the tragic deportations during the Second World War, the French government has redoubled efforts to make Jewish families feel welcome.
MARTINE COHEN: Jews know that public authorities are behind them and they want to defend them, yes? This is not state anti-Semitism. This is anti-Semitism from the society itself.
BEARDSLEY: That's Martine Cohen, a religious expert at CNRS Research Institute. Cohen says the new anti-Semitism is coming from a new generation of Muslims of African and North African descent, who she says are spurred on by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. France also has Western Europe's largest Muslim population.
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DIEUDONNE MBALA MBALA: (French spoken).
MBALA MBALA: (French spoken).
BEARDSLEY: Here in a small theater, not far from the synagogue, controversial comedian, Dieudonne Mbala Mbala, performs a crude routine with plenty of anti-Semitic themes. The French interior minister has tried unsuccessfully to ban the shows at this half-African, half-French provocateur with a large Internet following.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: (French spoken).
BEARDSLEY: Outside the theater after the show, some fans, a group of young Muslim men, tell me Dieudonne is not anti-Semitic, just anti-system.
RABBI MICHEL SERFATY: (French spoken).
BEARDSLEY: Rabbi Michel Serfaty is furious with the system with both French and Jewish authorities. He says they're dealing with the crisis in the wrong way - fighting in the courts instead of in the streets. This afternoon, Serfaty is handing out flyers in front of a mosque. He says French Muslim and Jewish communities are living in two separate worlds and must make an attempt to get to know each other.
SERFATY: (French spoken).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: (French spoken).
BEARDSLEY: We Jews and Muslims have to commit to treat each other with mutual respect, don't you agree? He asked a surprise worshiper, before extending an invitation to a couscous dinner.
SERFATY: (Through translator) We have to go out and meet Muslims to build the society of tomorrow together. We are all French. They must accept us and we, them.
BEARDSLEY: Serfaty has hired and trained several young Muslims to help him. He says they're making inroads, but it's a drop in the bucket. He says the French state needs to employ a battalion of such young people to help turn the tide of misinformation and hate. If not, he says, Jews will continue to leave France. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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