What’s New about the Jewish Emigration from Israel?

Prof. As’ad Abdul Rahman

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) has spoken for the first time since 2009 about a “negative migration balance” with “the number of those who left occupied Palestine more than those who have migrated to it”. The latest CBS report indicated that in 2015 around “16.7 thousand Israelis, most of them families left Palestine while 8500 Jews settled there”. The report highlighted the sharp decline in the number of immigrants from France and the United States where the world’s largest communities of Jewish faith live. Moreover, Haaretz newspaper quoted the Bureau: “the largest decline in the number of migrants in 2017 was from France at 29% compared with the same period of last year”. As to the United States, the decline was “estimated at 25% compared with last year, with the number standing at 309 people”. Overall, the newspaper said, “the number of those who left Israel to live abroad permanently or for long periods exceeds twice the number of those who arrived in Israel”.

A rising number of Russian Jews leaving Israel in recent years has also been revealed, with some of them returning to their home country while others headed to other countries. Haaretz said that “the negative migration counts by thousands annually, many of them Jews or having Jewish roots, although Israel is a comfortable choice to them since they receive its nationality immediately”. A further report on the issue published in the newspaper indicated that “many of them have not left their property in Moscow or St Petersburg but run their businesses remotely and have not identified themselves as Israelis. On the other hand, many of them took advantage of other choices and left Palestine to Western countries”. In this regard, Alexander Boroda, chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, believes that “such a trend is not related to an actual movement to Israel but to the desire of Russian Jews to obtain an Israeli passport to enable them to enter the largest number of countries without a visa”.

On a different but complimentary level, a poll conducted by Midgam Consulting and Research Institute for a project run by Israel’s education ministry and the Israeli army indicated that “Twenty seven percent of Israeli Jews would leave the country if given the opportunity”. The poll showed that “those who wish to leave Israel are young adults between the age of 23-29 years, the middle class of the society who are highly qualified”. Commenting on the outcome, the project manager Uri Cohen said “the fact that so many people say they would leave the country if they could indicates that many Israeli citizens do not feel a sense of belonging to the state”. He said “this is an alarming statistic that obligates us all to deal with this difficult issue.” Cohen added “the data pointed to problems among a growing number of Israelis in sense of identity, belonging and connection to the nation, land and State of Israel”. “This is already creating division in society”, he concluded. In this context, the Israeli journalist Ari Shavit wrote “Israel is drawing its last breath … We may have passed the point of no return, and it is no longer possible to end the occupation, stop settlement and achieve peace and it is no longer possible to reform Zionism, save democracy and divide the country. If that is the case, then it is a must to leave the country,” he noted. Shavit went on to say that “If Israel and Judaism are not vital agents of identity, and if there is a foreign passport, not only in the technical sense, but also in the psychological sense, then it is over. Friends should bid farewell and move to San Francisco or Berlin”. He added: “from there, from the country of the new German radical nationalism, or the country of the new American radical nationalism, we must look calmly and watch the State of Israel utter its last breath.” He concluded saying that “the Israelis realize that there is no future for them in Palestine, it is not a land without a people, as they lied”. On his part, the famous journalist Gedion Levy said “no one can stop the process of Israeli internal self-destruction. The cancerous disease Israel is experiencing has reached its final stages and cannot be treated neither with walls or iron domes, nor even with nuclear bombs.”

Palestinian as well as Israeli statistics confirm that by 2020, the number of Jews in historic Palestine will reach 6.96 million Jews compared to 7.2 million Palestinian Arabs. Hence, the Israeli panic at the reverse immigration factor, which will lead to the presence of an Arab majority that adds to many Israeli dilemmas. Reverse migration does not only mean a brain drain and loss of competencies, but is existentially problematic. Indeed, Israel, since its establishment, has relied on supporting the ‘state’ with migrants of settlers/colonialists and increasing their numbers. But it seems that many young Jewish people are convinced that they have fallen into a ‘big trap’, that long-term stability in their society is a fantasy and that a government headed by a person like Benjamin Netanyahu cannot produce a real political settlement with the Palestinians. The economic situation is declining despite the fact that the Israeli society enjoys an advanced standard of living compared to many countries including European states, while keeping in mind the penetration of the religious authority and its influence and control in the course of Israeli life, which alienates many Israelis and fills them with anxiety and perhaps fear.