President Obama unfortunately initially characterized the murders of four Jewish shoppers at the Hyper Casher market last month as "random," but France's Jews never saw it that way. I was in Paris during the Shloshim (30 day memorial service) for those victims and what I heard from friends wasn't whether to leave but when and to where.
It is hard to blame them. Since 2000, French Jews have been targeted by escalating hate crimes, ranging from firebombed synagogues to terrorist murders. Since 2012, native French citizens who trained with Islamist extremists in the Middle East carried out three deadly attacks against Jewish sites: one on a schoolyard of a Yeshiva in the southern city of Toulouse, another at a Jewish museum in Brussels and last month's terrorist outrage at kosher market in Paris. Twelve people died in total.
Three more incidents have since rocked the Jewish community:
- The murder of a heroic Jewish volunteer guarding a Bat Mitzvah celebration in Copenhagen by a native-born Dane of Arab descent.
- The desecration of hundreds of Jewish tombstones, including a Holocaust memorial in Eastern France.
- The ominous insertion of an anti-Semitic canard by a leading candidate in France's next presidential race, Roland Dumas, who accused the current French Prime, Minister Manuel Valls, of being under the influence of his Jewish wife. Asked in an interview whether he thinks whether Valls -- who is very popular in France's Jewish community for his frank condemnations of anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism -- is "under Jewish influence," Dumas replied: "Probably. Everyone is under some influence... I can think so, so why not say it?"
Meanwhile, President Hollande has publicly reiterated that he wants Europe's largest Jewish community to stay:
"We know there are doubts, questions across the community, " he said, adding, "I will not just let what was said in Israel pass, leading people to believe that Jews no longer have a place in Europe and in France in particular."
Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that the government would defend French Jews against what he described as "Islamo-fascism."
"A Jew who leaves France is a piece of France that is gone," Valls declared.
To their credit, Hollande and Valls have backed up their words with deeds. There are some 10,000 battle-ready soldiers deployed on France's streets, protecting strategic (read Jewish) sites. Five of those soldiers have been sleeping in the Paris office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
But the question of the day for France Jews is what happens the day after the soldiers are sent back to their barracks?
Even before the latest murders, thousands of French Jews had already left--many to Israel. They had it with taunts, hate crimes, bullying on trains, shootings, kidnappings, home invasions, rape and murder. They had absorbed unending media bias against Israel, anti-Semitic taunts from Dieudonné, a judicial system that would not deal with anti-Semitism in a serious way. And they felt a wall of apathy from many non-Jewish neighbors, over 30% of whom agree with the Le Pens of France who would be happy to see the Jews just leave and that hopefully the Muslims would follow suit.
It is difficult for us Americans to understand the sense of isolation many French Jews feel. Even in the sea of a millions of protesters at the Charlie Hebdo solidarity march, there was only one balloon that included all these words in the "Charlie" slogans:
Nous sommes tous- Charlie, flics, Juifs.
"We are all Charlie, Police, Jews"
The lone sign hovering above the millions who took to the streets, which included the word Juif, was written and held aloft by members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Last June, during a face-to-face meeting with President Hollande when he confirmed to us that 1,000 French citizens had trained with ISIS in Syria and now posed a new threat to France and the entire continent, we told Mr. Hollande: Beyond dealing with this new terrorist threat, unless and until France's 6,000+ Imams and other Muslim leaders, weigh in on the right side of this epic struggle, this war may not be winnable.
I got a small dose of the hate last week as were rushing to a meeting at a kosher restaurant near the Elysee Palace. Passing a pub with a lunchtime line spilling out onto the sidewalk, I briefly locked eyes with a young, hijab-clad Muslim woman. Her indifferent glance transformed into utter contempt when she saw my yarmulke.
Hate is learned and ISIS is but one of its only teachers. That woman's anti-Semitism will not be erased by government decrees. Such hatred can only be deconstructed by Muslims themselves. It is hard to blame any European Jew for not waiting around to find out how this all plays out.