Nearly 30,000 Jews immigrated to Israel in 5775

Olim came from 97 countries this year including one each from Andorra, Angola, Namibia, Paraguay, the Philippines and Slovakia.

September 10, 2015 05:16
4 minute read.
Zeev Elkin

Zeev Elkin welcomes olim on the 53rd Nefesh B'Nefesh flight as it lands in Israel. (photo credit: STEVE LINDE)

It looks like 2015 will be another record year for aliya, with more than 30,000 newcomers to the Jewish state, Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin announced on Wednesday.

Some 29,500 immigrants arrived here over the Hebrew past year, with more than 14,000 hailing from the former Soviet Union, according to statistics for 5775 released by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency. This marks a 13 percent increase over 5774.

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“These figures, which show a significant increase in the number of immigrants to Israel, reinforce the overall picture that the year 2015 will represent a year of record aliya for more than a decade. We estimate that, at this rate, by the end of the civil year we will reach between 30,000 and 35,000 immigrants,” said Elkin.

“This is a window of opportunity that the State of Israel cannot miss. Therefore, we at the Ministry of Aliya and Immigrant Absorption, the government and Israeli society in general are faced with a fascinating and compelling challenge, to both ensure that immigrants who arrive in Israel are well integrated and do whatever we can to increase activities to encourage aliya.”

While around 3,600 immigrants came from North American, the largest sources of aliya were France (7,350) and Ukraine (6,900), increases of 10 percent and 50%, respectively.

French aliya has largely been driven by a high youth unemployment and rising anti-Semitism, while the Russian-backed civil war and concomitant economic decline in Ukraine have accounted for increasing emigration.

The rise in Ukrainian aliya falls short of the 400% increase that Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky predicted during an interview with the Post one year ago but is still large.

At the time, Sharansky explained that despite the declared intent of many Jews displaced by the fighting to eventually return to their homes, emigration from the Eastern European nation will continue to grow significantly.

More than three-quarters of the Jews who lived in the now separatist stronghold of Donetsk before the civil war have become refugees, with many coming to Israel.

Russian aliya also rose, with 5,900 people making the move in 5775, 23% more than in the previous year.

Speaking to the Post in May, a senior Russian Jewish communal leader said that rising immigration to Israel is being driven partly by anxieties over Moscow’s increasingly authoritarian policies.

“The political situation of the last years has become much more tight than it was before,” said Boruch Gorin, a senior figure in the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

People are unsure of their future and do not know if Russia will “be closed as before in Soviet times,” he explained, adding that the pressure applied to opposition groups has been worrying to members of the Jewish community, many of whom are liberals.

Gorin also cited sanctions imposed by the West on Russia as a cause for emigration.

Western sanctions over the Kremlin’s role in fomenting unrest in Ukraine, as well as declining oil revenues, have hurt Russia’s economy.

Despite the increased aliya, however, Gorin said that he knows of many people who have gone to Israel in order to obtain citizenship but have then returned to Russia and that, anecdotally, he believes that “the big part of this aliya is people of this kind.”

According to the Jewish Agency, olim came from 97 countries in 5775, including one each from Andorra, Angola, Namibia, Paraguay, the Philippines and Slovakia.

“For the past few years, the majority of immigrants to Israel have been coming from free and democratic Western countries. These immigrants’ free choice to live in Israel, and their preference for Israel over other countries, is the true triumph of Zionism,” said Sharansky.

The trends enumerated in the new figures “reflect especially the worsening situation for Jews in several European countries, and the ability of the current Israeli economy to absorb in large part the new arrivals,” Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola told the Post.

He cautioned against reading too much into the numbers, however, stating that at “these levels aliya constitutes about 0.3% of Israel’s population, not enough to change existing balances. The arrival and city concentration of Jews from France is the only remarkable feature.”

Joel Rubinfeld, the founder of the Ligue Belge contre l’Antisémitisme in Brussels, said, “This is good news and bad news.

“Good news for Israel which sees its population growing and perfectly fills one of its mission: welcoming every Jew who is or feel threatened in his own country (notably Jews from Ukraine and other European countries). Bad news for Europe which sees its Jewish community decreasing due to the rise of anti-Semitism and the growing threat of Islamist terrorism. I personally fear that we are witnessing the last generation of a significant European Jewish community as, at age 18, more and more young European Jews are leaving their countries – mainly to Israel, USA, Canada – as they feel they have no more future here as a Jew.”

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