Rise in numbers of Jews leaving for Israel from some European countries

Some European countries have seen an increase in the number of Jews leaving to live in Israel but the numbers fall short of an “exodus”, according to a new study.

The Institute of Jewish Policy Research compared recent trends of Jewish migration with cases of mass migration in response to persecution or major political upheavals in the past.

Jonathan Boyd, the IJPR’s executive director, said: “There is no evidence of an exodus of Jews from Europe, even though the numbers of Jews emigrating to Israel from some countries in recent years – most notably France – are unprecedented.”

He added: “It is clear that Jews in parts of Europe are genuinely concerned about their future, most likely because of antisemitism, but the levels of anxiety and apprehension are nowhere near those experienced during previous periods of intense stress, like the 1930s and 1940s. Drawing those types of parallels has no basis in empirical reality.”

The IJPR looked at six countries – France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the UK, which account for about 70% of European Jews. It concluded there had been an increase in migration, especially from France, Belgium and Italy; but in the UK, Germany and Sweden levels of migration were not unusual.

Suggesting a definition of an exodus as 30% of the Jewish population, it said 4% of Jews in Belgium and France had left for Israel between 2010 and 2015. The proportion leaving from the UK, Germany and Sweden was between 0.6% and 1.7%.

The context, said the report, was a significant demographic transformation of Europe, with an inflow of migrants from the Middle East, north Africa and south Asia, which had implications for European culture, traditions and politics.

“It is against this background of demographic change and political reckoning that European Jews and Jewish communities try to orientate themselves. Irrespective of the degree of their religiosity and communal involvement, the process is neither easy nor light-hearted for most Jews,” said the report.

“It takes place both in the shadow of the Holocaust, an event that showed to Jews and others the scale of possible tragedy when a small and vulnerable minority is drawn into ideologically-inspired military conflict, and in the context of painful and difficult discourse about the State of Israel that affects many Jews at a gut level.”

It said the differences between the two groups of countries pointed to “the existence of two distinct post-2000s trajectories of migration to Israel”, it said. “On the one hand, there is the British pattern, constituted by the UK, Germany and Sweden, where ‘business as usual’ seemingly prevails, and on the other, there is the French pattern, constituted by France, Belgium and Italy, where new winds seem to be blowing.”

According to a report by Human Rights First, antisemitic incidents in France doubled from 423 in 2014 to 851 in 2015 and were becoming increasingly violent. Figures collated by the UK’s Community Security Trust suggested an 11% increase in antisemitic incidents in Britain in the first six months of 2016.

Daniel Staetsky, the author of the IJPR report, said: “European demographic and political landscapes are changing … Large segments of Jewish populations in European countries perceive antisemitism to be on the increase. There is no perfect tool to measure the prevalence and strength of antisemitic attitudes in the general public, but some phenomena can be measured by their effects.

“Migration plays a very central role in Jewish demography, as Jews are known to move in response to a particularly acute deterioration in the political or economic situation. If Jews feel unwelcome in Europe, their movement out of Europe will serve as the first sure sign of that.”

Two years ago, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, urged European Jews to migrate en masse to Israel following terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. “Israel is your home and that of every Jew. Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” he said.

However, European politicians and Jewish community leaders called on Jews to stay in Europe, saying terror was not a reason to emigrate.