Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, encouraged the Jews of France not to leave their country despite increasing anti-Semitic violence there and a rise in the far right’s popularity.
Greenblatt, who is in Europe on his first working trip abroad as the ADL’s national director, made the statement on Sunday during a panel discussion at the annual convention of CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities.
Asked whether he believed French Jews should consider emigrating if Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party, should make gains in the 2016 presidential elections, Greenblatt said he was not an expert on French politics, but added: “This is your country and I don’t think we should allow her or anyone to take it away.”
More than 6,250 French Jews have immigrated to Israel from January to September this year — more than three times the number of French Jews who did so in all of 2012, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Several hundred Jews from across France attended the event, which featured debates and lectures, mostly about the Israeli-Arab conflict, jihadism and anti-Semitism. Also in attendance were ADL officials and the vice president of the Board of British Deputies, Richard Verber.
“I know your challenges are greater than ours and that the demographic forces bearing down on you must seem overwhelming,” Greenblatt said, “but we admire your tradition, we respect your fortitude and we want the vibrant Jewish community here in France to expand from generation to generation.”
Pierre Lellouche, a Jewish former French minister and lawmaker, noted that the number of anti-Semitic acts recorded in France each year has risen from about a dozen incidents in the 1980s to 851 last year.
“Violent Jew-hatred is but one consequence of the problem with coexistence of Islam in France today,” he said, adding that most incidents are perpetrated by Arabs or Muslims. “Whites, Christians are regularly accosted on the street, as the Jews are.”
The Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who spoke at the conference hours before flying to Iraq on a fact-finding mission about jihadism, said that despite the challenges facing French Jewry, “they have never been less alone.”
“We have allies today in government and society in a way which we never had before,” he said.
Greenblatt, who succeeded longtime leader Abraham Foxman in the ADL post several months ago, said he was “encouraged by the words of Levy about buckling down and staying put.”