fBy YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, RUTH BENDER and JASON CHOW, WSJ—
Every Friday, Johanna Bettach, a pregnant mother of two, stocks up on weekend supplies at the Hyper Cacher supermarket. Last week, just before she was getting ready to shop, an Islamist militant gunned down four Jewish customers at the kosher store and took many others hostage.
The Hyper Cacher attack, one of the deadliest against France’s Jewish community since World War II, spurred outrage across the country. It was by no means isolated, coming against a backdrop of acts of violence and intimidation.
Just three months earlier, Ms. Bettach said, she found her mezuzah—a box containing a parchment of Torah verses that religious Jews attach to their doors—torn off and thrown out.
“It is going from bad to worse in France, and we know that it is not going to stop,” said Ms. Bettach, 33 years old. “I can’t sleep at night anymore. All day when my kids are at school, I worry. I just don’t see any future for my children in this country.”
Three-quarters of France’s roughly half-million Jews are, like Ms. Bettach, of North African origin, Jewish community officials estimate. Their families moved to the safety of France mostly in the period between Israel’s creation in 1948 and Algeria’s independence in 1962, as persecution and discrimination emptied out the once-huge Jewish communities of former French possessions across the Mediterranean.
France has the world’s third-largest Jewish population after Israel and the U.S., according to most estimates. “We need to act,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Saturday as he paid homage to the victims of the Hyper Cacher attack. “France without Jews is no longer France.”
In 2013, the last full year for which data have been compiled, there were 423 reported anti-Semitic incidents in France, compared with 82 in 1999, according to the Jewish Community Security Service, a joint body created by France’s main Jewish organizations that compiles data based on police reports.
Much of the recent upsurge of anti-Semitic violence in France has occurred in rundown towns likes Sarcelles, a north Paris suburb where Jews of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian origin live alongside Muslim immigrants from the same countries.
While feelings of fear and distress run through the French Jewish community after the Hyper Cacher attack, they are particularly strong among those of North African origin, with their memories of forced exodus still raw.
“They had come to the French Republic with the conviction that things would not happen that way again,” said Elisabeth Schemla, a prominent French Jewish writer and magazine editor who moved from her native Algeria as a teenager in the 1960s. “Now, they have a feeling that they are reliving what they themselves or their parents had lived through already.”
Ms. Bettach said her sister moved to New York a decade ago and two of her husband’s brothers emigrated to Israel. On Sunday, two days after the Hyper Cacher attack, she began paperwork for moving to Israel.
“In Algeria, my father had to flee from one day to another because if he hadn’t left, he would have been killed,” said Ms. Bettach. “At least we still have time to prepare, to take our possessions with us.”
Some 6,900 French Jews moved to Israel in 2014, up from 3,300 in 2013, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, an Israeli organization that oversees the process. The number is expected to grow to 10,000 in 2015, the agency said. Many others are moving to Israel informally, or leaving France for the U.S., Britain and even Germany, Jewish community officials said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met French Jewish community representatives over the weekend, said Israel is preparing for increased immigration of Jews from France and other countries he said have been hit by anti-Semitism. “I wish to tell all French and European Jews: Israel is your home,” he said in Paris.
Anti-Semitic attacks occur elsewhere in Europe. One lethal attack outside France came in May 2014 in the form of a shooting spree that killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. It was allegedly perpetrated by a French Islamist, who is currently awaiting trial. He hasn’t entered a plea and according to his lawyer declined to comment.
In France, attacks have been particularly violent. On July 20 in Sarcelles, a pro-Palestinian rally turned into a confrontation that led to the burning of several Jewish-owned businesses. Two years earlier, an Islamist gunman killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in the city of Toulouse. In 2006, cellphone salesman Ilan Halimi in the Paris area was kidnapped by a gang who held him for ransom and tortured him to death for three weeks for being Jewish, burning his skin with acid and gasoline, according to police reports. The perpetrators were tried and convicted.
“We are in a situation of war,” said Roger Cukierman, president of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France, or CRIF, an umbrella group representing France’s Jewish organizations.
The French government has said on many occasions that it will do all it can to protect the country’s Jews. Asked if violence against Jews is on the rise in France, a spokeswoman for President François Hollande’s office said that the “fight against anti-Semitism is a permanent engagement.”
As part of its response to the killings at the kosher store, the French government appointed a special official in charge of Jewish security and deployed 4,700 troops to guard 717 Jewish sites across the country. In Sarcelles, mothers now push their prams into the Jewish crèche past three policemen standing ready with rifles.
Ms. Bettach said she appreciates what the government is doing now, with armed troops staying overnight in sleeping bags at the Jewish school attended by her children, aged 7 and 1. “But we know they will not stay there forever,” she added. “And once they go, what will we do then?”
Nearly four million people demonstrated in France against last week’s attacks, in which Amedy Coulibaly, a follower of Islamic State, killed four people at Hyper Cacher and killed a policewoman, and brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi, followers of al Qaeda in Yemen, gunned down 12 people at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine.
Muslim community leaders in France have condemned the attacks. “The feeling of the French Muslims is shame and fear,” said Slimane Nadour, head of communications at the Grand Mosque of Paris. “Shame because people could commit those crimes in the name of Islam, and fear because we feel that our community is being blamed for the actions of a small minority of extremists commanded from overseas.”
Asked whether the French Jews have a reason to be increasingly afraid, Mr. Nadour said: “Everyone in France, including the Muslims, is afraid of the radicals. Muslims themselves are the biggest target of radical Islamist terrorism.”
Many French Jews say the level of public outrage was relatively muted after the 2012 killings in Toulouse.
“Even if the French are against anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic attacks don’t provoke the same display of emotion due to their repetition, it gets trivialized,” said Maurice Lévy, chief executive of French advertising company Publicis Groupe SA. “We have to fight against this trivialization.”
At the end of the 18th century, revolutionary France removed Medieval restrictions against its Jews and led the push to give equal rights to long-oppressed Jewish communities across the continent. Many of its Jews prided themselves on assimilating into the mainstream. A Jewish prime minister governed France in the years before the outbreak of World War II.
About a quarter of France’s prewar Jewish population of around 300,000 perished in the Holocaust, killed by the Nazis and their French collaborators, according to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and research center in Jerusalem.
Then, the numbers started growing again, thanks to the postwar influx from North Africa. These newcomers from North Africa were often more religious than France’s established Jewish communities, sparking a boom in the creation of Jewish schools, kosher restaurants and places of worship—turning France into the center of Jewish life in Europe.
“When you reach that high, you cannot envisage for yourself or your children the future of Jews who have to live in hiding,” said Michel Gurfinkiel, head of the Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute, a Paris think tank, and a member of the board of governors of the union of French synagogues.
Over the past decade, however, the country’s Jews increasingly began feeling threats from a new direction—targeted by Muslim militants angered by Israel’s actions in the Middle East.
There were similar attacks in the past, such as a 1982 bombing that killed six people in a Jewish restaurant in the Marais district of Paris. Those, however, were mostly perpetrated by Palestinian terrorist groups.
By contrast, the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 spurred a wave of anti-Semitic violence by France’s Muslim youths. That wave has yet to abate, with spikes closely tied to events in the Middle East, according to the Jewish Community Security Service.
The 423 reported anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2013 included 49 acts of “physical violence” and 152 incidents of insults or verbal threats and gestures, according to the service’s report. This means that in 2013, 40% of racist violence in France targeted Jews, who represent less than 1% of the French population, the report said. Many more incidents just don’t get reported, Jewish organizations said.
Delphine Sultan said her daughter decided to leave for Israel when some fellow students at her university south of Paris refused to observe a minute of silence for the Toulouse victims. “She came home in shock and said: ‘I don’t have a future here,’ ” said Ms. Sultan, a 48-year-old Parisian of Algerian-Tunisian origin.
In some high schools across France, the minute of silence for the victims of last week’s attacks was disrupted too, according to French news reports.
Before the Hyper Cacher attack, the latest such spike in violence came in July, in the midst of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Sarcelles became a flash point. There are over 10,000 Jews in the city, initially drawn to the area in the 1960s and 1970s by its more-affordable housing. Most reside in what locals dub “Petite Jérusalem,” where dozens of kosher businesses thrive, along with schools and synagogues.
During the July 20 confrontation in Sarcelles, a pro-Palestinian rally turned into a confrontation outside the town’s main synagogue, with Jewish and Muslim youths hurling insults and bottles at each other while police stood in the middle to keep the two sides apart. Witnesses said members of a radical Jewish organization formed a line around the synagogue, using motorcycle helmets as weapons.
As Muslim protesters lighted garbage cans and cars on fire, the police set off tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Rioters burned down a Jewish-owned pharmacy and a kosher store. In 2012, the store had been hit by a grenade.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen that kind of hatred in France, in Sarcelles,” said Phillippe Roussel, a Tunisian-born 42-year-old Jewish entrepreneur, who watched the July riot by the Sarcelles synagogue.
Some Muslims in Sarcelles dispute there is rising hatred against Jews. “We all want peace. I was shocked by the attacks of last week but I don’t think there’s rising anti-Semitism in Sarcelles,” said Ismail Bayrak, a Turkish immigrant who works at a grocery store in Sarcelles. “We live well together here.”
The burned pharmacy’s owner, René Banon, who was raised in Algeria, has reopened in temporary premises elsewhere in the Sarcelles mall. “In Algeria, anti-Semitism was soft,” the 68-year-old said. “It’s worse in France today—an anti-Semitism that’s so fierce that it kills. People were saying, ‘Attack the Jews! Burn them!’ I never thought it would happen here.”
Mr. Banon said friends and relatives tried to discourage him from reopening the pharmacy. He said he is determined not to flee.
“I’m not going to Israel with a pistol at my back. If I ever go, it’s because it’s my choice, not because of fear,” Mr. Banon said as he watched the crowds in the pharmacy via closed-circuit TV. “Closing would mean I’m giving in and they win.”
—Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.