Bad Math In Reporting Is Bad For French Jews

05.06.13 7:45 PM ET

A recent CNN segment on the sharply rising numbers of French aliyah—immigration—to Israel draws attention to a very real and alarming issue. It is also lazy chickenshit reporting. Whenever a news story about anti-Semitism is this poorly executed—especially by such a powerful news organization—it just gives skeptics and deniers fuel to quash reports of rising anti-Semitism. And in France, the deniers are just as problematic as actual anti-Semitic violence.

Yes, the CNN report is right—both French aliyah numbers and reports of anti-Semitic violence are on the rise. But CNN is right only by accident, and we can’t have that. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day; that doesn’t mean you should run out and buy one.

First of all, the report—delivered by journalist Jim Bitterman—says that “according to a Jewish security agency [in France], anti-Semitic attacks were up 60 percent in 2012.” What exactly is a Jewish security agency? The Mossad? And does he mean the violence increased by 60 percent from 2011 to 2012, or over the previous decade, or what?

Oh, maybe he means this report by France’s SPCJ (Protection Service of the Jewish Community), but why do I have to do his footnoting for him? The report does state that anti-Semitic acts went up from 389 in 2011 to 614 in 2012, which is a 58 percent increase. Yes, that’s a lot. So much so, in fact, that it might have been worth being less cagey about the source, especially since it’s a highly respected one.

Also, Bitterman states that “2000 [Jews] emigrated to Israel last year alone.” Is that a lot? A little? What’s the delta? And again, source? He says, “The immigration authority [in Israel].” Does he not have to name a precise agency just because it’s in a foreign country and his stupid audience would not have heard of it anyway?

Here’s what I found on the Jewish Virtual Library, which collated a table based on data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Aliyah numbers from 2011 to 2012 went up from 1619 to 1653. If accurate, that’s an increase of just over 2 percent. This is not significant given that the increase from, for example, 2006 to 2007 was 1781 to 2767, or an increase of over 55 percent. The increase from 1967 to 1968 was 893 to 2523, which is an increase of 182.5 percent. So if rising aliyah figures are a trend, it’s not a recent one.

Of course, any increase is bad, no matter how miniscule. And 2012 was an outstandingly bad year for French Jews. Four Jews died in the March 19 attacks on a Jewish school in Toulouse; on October 6, a terrorist cell executed a grenade attack on a kosher food store in Sarcelles, a suburb north of Paris. Then there was the #unbonjuif Twitter hashtag devoted to anti-Semitic jokes.

But this CNN report gets at two pet peeves of mine: imprecision about numbers, and the fact that American reporters treat all stories on France as if they’re writing some hazy travel story about baguettes not tasting as good as they used to. Put some back into it, people. This is a serious issue.

Which in turn gets to the heart of a third pet peeve: that American journalists love to talk about how anti-Semitic Everyone Else is. The French are an easy target.

Why in the world should the French react well to vague, anti-French attacks? Jacques Attali, of Jewish origin and one of France’s leading intellectuals, gave an interview to Haaretz in 2009 saying that reports of anti-Semitism in France were “Israeli propaganda.” I think he might have a screw loose, but I can see clearly here that he is responding to the assault on his Frenchness, which for him is probably almost as bad as an assault on his Jewishness would be. His is clearly a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that the international press likes to ease its conscience by reporting that those craven frogs are way more anti-Semitic anyone else.

If you’re doing a story on French aliyah, maybe it’s worth considering whether more French people want to live in Israel for positive reasons—because they see it as a spiritual home. Is this hypothesis correct? Go find out.

Besides which, there is a lot of exodus from France in general, for all kinds of reasons. Particularly after President François Hollande instituted his notorious tax hikes. In December 2012, the French daily Le Figaro, citing the European think tank IREF (Institute of Economic and Fiscal research), reported that 5000 entrepreneurs left France in 2012. Previously, the exit numbers were steadily between 800 and 1000 per year. That is an increase of between 500 and 525 percent in 2012 over previous years. Which is way, way higher than the French aliyah numbers of any recent year.