Two ultra-Orthodox Jews look at Jerusalem's Old City walls illuminated Nov. 15 with the colors of the French national flag. The lighting was in solidarity with France after terrorist attacks in Paris. The largest number of Jews emigrating last year from Western Europe to Israel came from France.
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Two ultra-Orthodox Jews look at Jerusalem's Old City walls illuminated Nov. 15 with the colors of the French national flag. The lighting was in solidarity with France after terrorist attacks in Paris. The largest number of Jews emigrating last year from Western Europe to Israel came from France.

Jews increasingly leave Europe for Israel

By ARON HELLER

The Associated Press

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JERUSALEM – Jewish immigration to Israel from Western Europe has reached an all-time high as a result of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, as France’s beleaguered Jewish community grapples with whether to refrain from donning 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, told The Associated Press that 9,880 Jews in Western Europe immigrated to Israel in 2015 – the highest annual number ever. The figure is more than 10 percent higher than in 2014 and more than double the 2013 level.

The vast majority, almost 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.

Recently, a machete-wielding teen attacked a Jewish teacher in the southern French city of Marseille, prompting a local Jewish leader to ask fellow Jews to refrain from wearing 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.

Almost 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 Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency. “At the same time, the fact that Israel has become the No. 1 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.”

European Jews have not felt this threatened since World War II, experts said, when 6 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 increasingly have 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 still is reeling from a series of attacks Nov. 13 in Paris that killed 130 people. The nation also recently marked the anniversary of attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store which killed 17 people. In each case, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

France’s Jewish community of some 500,000 is the largest in Europe. Jewish schools and synagogues often are surrounded by soldiers in combat fatigues who patrol the streets with automatic rifles. Though Jews make up less than 1 percent of the population, French officials said more than 50 percent of all reported racist attacks in 2014 were directed against them.

Concerns about anti-Semitism in France already had been high, but 2014 saw a record number of French Jews immigrate to Israel. That figure was easily eclipsed in 2015, prompting French authorities to warn about a steeper decline and saying a future France without Jews would “no longer be France.”