For centuries, France has had a complicated relationship with its Jewish citizens. Beginning in the Middle Ages, France’s Jewish population has suffered from persecution from the reigning government, as well as, from many of the non-Jewish citizens. While there have certainly been times of tolerance and acceptance (such as during the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte), an overall culture of anti-Semitism has never been truly eradicated. Possibly at its worst since the end of World War II and the Nazi guided Vichy government, anti-Semitism in France is experiencing a highly troubling flare-up that is showing no signs of cooling down.
Inspired in part by the growing far-right National Front Party led by noted anti-Semitic father-daughter duo Jean Marie and Marine Le Pen, the National Front Party has grown to historically large levels and has called for the banning of traditional Jewish skull caps, or Kippot. Also, a growing Muslim population in France with deep anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sensibilities has led to a revival of traditional anti-Semitism in the country.
Clearly a sign of the times, one of the most popular comedians in France, Dieudonne M’bala M’bala has taken the country by storm with his satirical mix of overtly anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic views. Despite attempts at censorship by the French government, Dieudonne (as he is affectionately known) uses his shows to make thinly veiled jabs at Holocaust denial and rationalizations for Islamic terrorism and suicide bombings in Israel. He often uses the “quenelle”, an inverted Nazi heil salute that has been recreated by his devoted followers at synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and Holocaust memorials.
A recent poll of French Jews shows that roughly 75 percent are considering leaving France for good, most of them citing anti-Semitism as the driving cause. This is the highest number ever recorded in the country of 500,000 Jews, the third highest total in the world behind only Israel and the United States. In the past few years, an increasing number of violent anti-Semitic attacks have occurred in France, including a shooting at a Jewish school in the city of Toulouse which killed eight and injured five. This is just one example of the anti-Jewish rash of crimes in France that has left the Jewish population in constant fear.
Because of the anti-Semitic environment in France, French Jews have become ripe candidates for asylum and refugee status in the United States. Now that even a simple walk to the grocery store can be treacherous for Jews in the country, there may be a valid reason for them to be awarded a safe haven in America.
Gaining either of these two designations can be difficult and highly complicated. Technically speaking, asylum seekers must already be located in the United States when attempting to be granted asylum here. On the other hand, refugees must be outside of the U.S. when applying for the designation. French Jews may be eligible for either of these distinctions, depending on where they are located at the time of application. It is of utmost importance for asylum and refugee status seekers to demonstrate that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group . As a result of the surge in anti-Semitic attitudes and attacks in France, this may definitely become a viable option for French Jews.
While there are many nuances to the asylum laws, one particularly important wrinkle in the case of French Jews is dual-nationality. If someone attempting to obtain a visa to the U.S. on humanitarian grounds holds citizenship in another country (such as Israel) that can also adequately protect them, it becomes much more difficult to convince the United States government that he or she needs to be here. Since a place like Israel takes in numerous Jews facing persecution in their home countries, the United States would be strongly inclined to deny asylum to French Jews who hold Israeli passports, as they can go there safely.
If you or someone you know is considering leaving France out of fear of the rising tide of anti-Semitism, it is highly recommended that you do so cautiously and with the advice and counsel of an experienced immigration attorney. This is a very intricate process which needs to be handled with extreme care, as to make sure that you are successful and not left in danger in France. We at Wildes & Weinberg have successfully worked on countless cases involving asylum and have a deep background in helping and defending those who have been persecuted in their home countries. We would be honored to assist in any asylum or refugee case, and stand in solidarity with all those experiencing persecution worldwide.