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World

In Wake Of Increasing Anti-Semitic Attacks, More Jews Flee France

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to another question - this one about identity and security. A record number of Jews are leaving France and moving to Israel, partly because of an increase in violence. There have been a few high-profile attacks in France over the last five years - a shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, and then the attack on a kosher grocery in Paris last year. Those shootings combined with the attacks in November have created a tense security environment.

Robert Ejness is executive director of CRIF in Paris. It's an organization monitoring the security situation for the French Jewish community. He points to that shooting at the kosher grocery store as the point when Jews in France went on high alert.

ROBERT EJNESS: That was a Friday. On the Sunday, the president of the republic, Francois Hollande, invited all the leaders of the Jewish community and said he had decided to put security forces - military forces in front of every Jewish building in France and to have 10,000 soldiers immediately protect the Jewish schools, synagogues and Jewish Community Centers. That was a big difference, you can imagine. And we have had it since that day.

And you can imagine what it means for a parent to bring his child to the Jewish school every morning with military forces and guns in front of the school to protect the kids. It produces an effect on the Jewish community.

MARTIN: Are those military officers still there?

EJNESS: Yes. So every morning when we go to synagogue, when we go to Jewish Community Centers, when we go to schools - we realize every time we get into a Jewish building that we have to protected.

MARTIN: So how does that make you feel? I mean, does that make you feel more secure? Or is there some kind of...

EJNESS: Both.

MARTIN: ...Other level of isolation that happens as a result?

EJNESS: Absolutely, absolutely. In the one hand, we feel more secure because we feel there are people protecting the Jewish community. In the other hand, we realize that the Jewish community has to be protected. And therefore, whoever has to be protected means he is in danger.

MARTIN: There's been a lot written and reported about the Muslim immigrant population that has often been relegated into the banlieue and has not been able to integrate more fully into mainstream French society. Seven-point-five percent of the French population is now Muslim. Do you think France has succeeded in creating - or nurturing a religiously pluralistic society?

EJNESS: No because France has never wanted to be a pluralistic religious society. The story of the French Revolution shows that France has wanted to be a secular country, whereby the - in protecting the religion and individual freedom. And we were educated in the system - when I say the integration system - the system was built so that everyone - whatever religion, whatever color, whatever origin - was integrated in the French population through the school system. And this is what has failed with the Muslim population.

MARTIN: The school system, you say, has failed. How so?

EJNESS: Yes. Yes, for the past 40 years. It has failed integrating the Muslim population because of some changes that have been made because of some segregation that has been made geographically, where the Muslim population has been put in specific areas, where in some areas in France, there is not one Jewish child left in the French public schooling system. When I was a kid and I went to school, I had absolutely no difficulty being in school with Catholics, with Muslims, with Italians, Spaniards or whatever origin, colors or religion.

MARTIN: And that's not the case today?

EJNESS: And that's much more difficult today. I'm talking about a small portion of the Muslim population, essentially of recent immigration, that has not been able to integrate in the system. And most of the Muslim population, being in France for many years, has totally integrated.

MARTIN: Robert Ejness - he is the executive director of CRIF, an organization in Paris that monitors the security situation for the French Jewish community.

Thank you so much for talking with us and sharing your thoughts.

EJNESS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.