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Middle East

French Jews going to Israel

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 8:51 a.m.

NETANYA, Israel — As immigration to Israel has dipped over the past 10 years, France is the only country with a growing number of its Jewish citizens moving there. And Netanya is the French arrivals' No. 1 destination.

The French in Netanya are not wearing berets and striped shirts, but the signs of their arrival are everywhere. The shop windows of real estate offices offer “superbe maison, vue sur mer, 3 salles de bain.” There are lawn bowling clubs, and the falafel joint's menu lists “hamburger avec frites.” A French-style bakery called Pain au Chocolat is filled with mid-morning coffee dawdlers and children in strollers munching macaroons.

The reasons the French newcomers give for moving here: They love Israel, or at least the idea of Israel; the economy in France is weak, especially for young people; and perhaps most important, they feel a rise in anti-Semitism in France.

Immigration to Israel is called making “aliyah,” which in Hebrew means “the act of going up” or “ascending.” And it is slowing, despite intensive, expensive outreach — and outright wooing — by the government and private organizations. About 19,200 Jews immigrated to Israel last year, down from the 22,139 who came a decade ago.

Against that backdrop, France is the exception. There were 3,270 French arrivals last year, an increase of 63 percent from 2012, according to Israel's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. Percentage-wise, that is a far greater number than the 3,070 Jews who emigrated from the United States, which has many more Jews than France.

Israel is a country built by immigration, and it is a core national mission to populate the country with as many Jews as possible.

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