Antisemitism in Europe drives some Jews to seek safety in Israel despite ongoing war in Gaza

Ashdod, southern Israel — There will be a decisive second round of voting in France Sunday after the far-right National Rally Party, led by Marine Le Pen, won big against centrist President Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the national election exactly one week earlier.

Le Pen’s party has a history of racism, antisemitism and islamophobia dating back decades. Some prominent Jewish figures in France — which is largely considered to have the biggest Jewish population in Europe — say there’s been more antisemitism lately not only from the far-right, but also from the left.

Tension has mounted across Europe since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with massive rallies, most of them pro-Palestinian, held in major cities across the continent.

Protesters hold placards and wave Palestinian flags as they take part in a „National March for Gaza“ in central London, June 8, 2024.


Harrowing images from Gaza have fueled outrage and, in some alarming cases, antisemitism has been seen and heard. In one of the most worrying examples, some people even celebrated on the streets of London on the day that Hamas militants killed some 1,200 people in their unprecedented terrorist attack on Israel.

Nearly 40% of antisemitic incidents in the world last year took place in Europe, and there was a spike after that Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. In Germany, they nearly doubled. In the U.K., they more than doubled. And in France, they nearly quadrupled.

Those incidents and the underlying hatred behind them have prompted some Jewish families to move not further away from the war, but toward it — to Israel.

Requests from French Jews to relocate to Israel have soared by 430% since October.

Among those who have already made that move are Sarah Zohar and her family, who lived a comfortable life in France — until her children were attacked while walking to sports practice.

Sarah Zohar pushes her children on a merry-go-round in a playground in Ashdod, southern Israel, where they moved after facing antisemitism in France amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

CBS News

They packed their bags and moved to the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, remarkably only about 15 miles from the Gaza Strip, which Hamas ruled for almost 20 years and from which it launched its attack in October.

„I feel safer here,“ Zohar told CBS News, but she doesn’t pretend it’s been an easy transition for her family.

„I have a child, 12 years old, and he’s told me, ‚I don’t want to go to Israel, because I don’t want people to come to my house and kill me with a knife and take my head off,“ she said. „I told him: ‚You have nothing to be afraid. We have an army to defend us.'“

About 2,000 miles away, back in Paris, Rabbi Tom Cohen said Jews were remembering the antisemitism of World War II, and for some, it felt like „we didn’t get past it, and it is still here — it just has changed form, like many viruses change and mutate.“

CBS News met Guila and Eitan Elbazis as they moved into their new home in Ashdod after leaving their lives in London.

They showed off their new bomb shelter room. 

Guila and Eitan Elbazis show CBS News‘ Chris Livesay (left) the safe room in their new home in Ashdod, southern Israel, after the couple moved from London to raise a family and escape rising antisemitism.

CBS News

„Hopefully, please, God, there won’t be any rockets, but as you can see, this door is bulletproof, and it locks up,“ Giulia said.

As the Elbazis start a family, they decided they’d rather contend with the threat of Hamas and Hezbollah on their doorstep than with hatred on the streets of London.

„I think there’s a general sense of fear and anxiety and lack of comfort in London,“ Eitan said.

„Like I have to hide who I am to be safe,“ agreed Giulia.

They said they felt safer in Israel, „hands down. Without even thinking about it.“

„We have institutions here to defend us,“ said Eitan.

Giulia added that while Israel is a country at war, „this is home,“ and for them, it’s a home where they don’t have to hide who they are.

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