With a degree from the prestigious HEC Paris business school, five years at a global consulting firm, and a three-floor dream apartment in the French capitals 10th arrondissement, Mickael Nadjar had a comfortable and prosperous life in his native France.
Four years ago, he left it all behind and headed for Tel Aviv. While he initially came to lead a business project in Israel, Nadjar ended up staying because he was tired of the daily frustrations and slights endured by practicing Jews in France. After the Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket this month, Nadjar says, more friends have started contemplating a similar move.
I would not raise my children in France, said Nadjar, 32, who now lives in Tel Avivs gentrifying Florentin neighborhood. When I was growing up, to say youre a Jew in France wasnt a problem. Now, Im not so sure.
Since his move, Nadjar has obtained Israeli citizenship and launched a technology startup that employs six people. His trajectory indicates an expected influx of French Jews to Israel may have an economic impact that goes beyond better baguettes and increased imports of Bordeaux grands crus.
Some 7,000 French citizens emigrated to Israel in 2014, more than people from any other nation. The Jewish Agency expects that number to roughly double this year due to a sluggish French economy, high taxes on top earners, and increasing anti-Semitism.
With experience in fields ranging from telecommunications to biotech to finance, those people could have an effect not unlike the Protestant Huguenots driven from France in the 16th and 17th centuries, who became an economic engine in the U.S., Canada, and several European countries. Frances Jews are on track to be the biggest infusion of human capital in decades to a country that has long seen its growth closely linked to whats called Aliyah — Hebrew for ascendance and a word that has come to mean Jewish immigration to Israel.
In the past decade, theres been migration from France for financial reasons, said Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, a non-profit group aimed at boosting immigration to Israel. Over the past couple of years, though, weve seen more and more people cite growing insecurity about terrorism. Since the recent attacks, he said, inquiries have tripled.
Dov Maimon, a French migr who studies migration as a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, expects as many as 250,000 French — about half of Frances current Jewish population — to come to Israel in the next 15 years.
This is a huge opportunity for Israel — from an economic as well as a cultural perspective, said Maimon, who is working on a plan to lure the affluent with tax benefits and grants. One of the biggest drivers of economic growth in Israel has always been immigration.
Maimon says the challenge for Israel will be to attract wealthier, more secular members of the community, who are more likely to move to the U.S. or Canada — or simply stay in France. Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the European Jewish Association, points out that many Jews in France remain tied to jobs and family there and view life in Israel, where war breaks out every few years, as inherently risky.
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Israel Gains With Emigration of French Jewish Entrepreneurs