Do Jews have a future in France? Many have posed that question since four Jews were murdered last week at a kosher store in Paris.
Yet, no one asked that question about Jews in America after three people were murdered by a white supremacist at Jewish institutions near Kansas City last year, or when Islamic extremists plotted to blow up synagogues in 2009 and 2010. Why?
The two communities – French and American Jews -- have starkly different senses of security due to different anti-Semitic experiences at three levels: terrorism, politically charged moments related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and daily life.
Both France and the U.S. are targets of Islamic terrorists, whose anti-Semitism makes Jewish institutions in both countries prime targets for ideological reasons. Yet, the French Jewish experience has been far worse.
The Paris killings were the third time in four years that French Islamic extremists have conducted "successful" terror attacks on Jewish institutions, resulting in multiple murders. In 2012, Mohamed Merah shot three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse. In May 2014, Mehdi Nemmouche, a French citizen, opened fire on the Jewish museum in Brussels, just 50 miles from the open French-Belgian border, murdering four people.
And last week, Amedy Coulibaly, who proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State terror organization, murdered four Jews at the kosher supermarket. The bravery of a young Muslim employee who hid several Jews inside the store and a well-executed French police raid kept the death toll from being much higher.
Over the past decade, Islamic extremists have planned multiple plots against American Jewish institutions, all of which have been foiled by law enforcement. The two murders which did occur, the Kansas City attack and the shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., were perpetrated by white supremacists, whose fringe ideology has few adherents and the danger from which is hardly on the scale posed by Islamic extremism.
Whatever the explanation – U.S. counterterrorism success or French failure or other reasons – the terrorism experiences of the two Jewish communities stand in clear contrast.
In the U.S., plenty of anti-Semitic signs and vandalism were reported this summer during the Israel-Hamas war, but no Jews or Jewish institutions were physically attacked. That pattern repeated itself whenever events in the Middle East provide an excuse for anti-Semitic acts.
But France's Jews are attacked when it's quiet in the Middle East, showing that perhaps the most salient difference between the communities' experiences of anti-Semitism is in day-to-day life.
Since 2008, an average of 77 physical assaults on Jews in France has occurred annually, or about one every five days. As the French Jewish security agency, SPCJ, stated in its most recent annual report, "Antisemitism in France cannot be considered anymore as a temporary situation associated with situation in the Middle-East; it is a structural problem that has not been fought as such and has not been halted yet."
Exacerbating the unease of French Jews are the levels of anti-Semitism in the general population and the rise of the far-right National Front with its history of anti-Semitism. In ADL's Global 100 survey of anti-Semitic attitudes, France scored significantly higher than the European Union average. Thirty-seven percent of French respondents agreed with a majority of anti-Semitic stereotypes, compared to 25 percent in the E.U. and 9 percent in the U.S. The National Front's Marine Le Pen is currently leading opinion polls in the 2017 presidential race.
Whether Jews have a future in France will depend on more than the government's counterterrorism campaign. France needs to fulfill President Francois Hollande's New Year's promise "to make the fight against racism and against anti-Semitism a great national cause," and develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to combat anti-Semitism.
When the French Jewish community has confidence that the daily assaults will be controlled and reduced, only then will their fears subside. Only then, can there be a positive answer: Yes, Jews do have a future in France.