Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was in Paris last week for a Jewish Agency Board of Governor’s meeting. Many of the lay and professional leaders from around the world who joined him viewed the choice of venue as an opportunity to express solidarity with the Jewish community of Europe in general, and of France in particular.
These communities are rightly viewed to be under siege, facing mounting threats from a growing Arab population, increasing expressions of governmental condemnation of Israel, and worrying incidents of anti-Semitism. But the meeting’s expression of solidarity and support was turned on its head when, in the course of an interview with JTA, Sharansky predicted that French Jewry is doomed. “There is no future for the Jews in France because of the Arabs, and because of a very anti-Israel position in society, where new anti-Semitism and ancient anti-Semitism converge,” he said.
Sharansky’s foreboding prediction is consistent with the language he used in delivering a message following the January 2015 massacres at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. Back then, he warned of further potential trauma to the Jews of France and the unraveling of France’s liberal traditions. At the time, the number of French Jews leaving for Israel was on the rise. And though the numbers have fallen off this year, Sharansky declared that the Jewish Agency is prepared for an inevitable rise and has dozens of representatives ready to assist new olim from France.
We support wholeheartedly efforts by the Jewish Agency to make aliyah easy and affordable for French Jews and any other Jews around the world. That said, we question the utility of Sharansky’s dark prediction about the French Jewish community, which has some 500,000 members and is the third largest in the world.
Declaring Jewish communities dead should not be the business of the Jewish Agency or of any other Jewish organization. There is a disquieting social engineering quality to such pronouncements, which are not at all helpful to Jews in the area who choose to stay put. And while there is nothing wrong with promoting aliyah for those interested in making the move, care must be taken not to do so in a manner that weakens local Jewish communities. Rather, it is in everyone’s interests — including those of Israel and the Jewish Agency itself — to promote and strengthen historic diaspora Jewish communities.
The Jewish Agency made a strong statement of support for the Jewish community of France by convening its Board of Governors meeting in Paris. It’s very next message should not have been the disquieting implication of Sharansky’s words — that the very Jews with whom the Jewish Agency is showing solidarity should all cut and run.