The immigration of Diaspora Jews to Israel increased by seven percent in 2013 while North American aliya dropped by 11 percent, according to figures released by the Jewish Agency and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry on Sunday.

The overall increase was partially driven by a 63% increase in aliya from France, part of a 35% rise among Western European nations.

In total 19,200 Jews immigrated to Israel, a rise of 260 from the previous year.

While the official figures listed an 11% drop in aliya from North America with some 3,000 immigrants coming over the past year as opposed to 3,389 in 2012, Nefesh B’Nefesh, the private organization to which Israel has outsourced its aliya operations in the US and Canada, provided different numbers.

“As of last week, Nefesh B’Nefesh has brought 3,400 olim from North America to Israel in 2013,” an NBN spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post.

“This number has pretty much remained the same as the previous year of 2012.”

French aliya figures correlate with a spike in anti-Semitic attacks registered last year: A total of 614 recorded incidents that constituted a 58% increase from 2011. French participation in Israel’s Masa program, which sends Jewish students to study in Israel for periods of up to a year, rose by 25% in 2013, from 750 last year. 3,120 French Jews moved to Israel in 2013, up from 1,916 in 2012.

Israel was quick to take credit for the rise, with JAFI and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry saying that the increase was “due in large part to the fact that thousands of French Jewish young people have been experiencing life in Israel through a range of Jewish Agency programs, and to preparations undertaken” by the two bodies.

Several new programs intended to ease the return of Israelis living in France are in the works for 2014, they announced, as well as “a joint task force to reach out to Israelis living abroad and strengthen their connections to Israel.”

While many in Israel have made a big deal out of the rising French aliya figures, Roger Cukierman, the president of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), the representative organization of French Jewry, has downplayed its importance.

While French Jews continue to make aliya, the number coming is still less than 1% of the Jewish population, he told the Post in October.

However, while it is true that the increasing levels of French aliya are but a drop in the bucket compared to the larger French Jewish community, the numbers do not adequately express the impact that aliya has had on French Jewry, Rabbi Yosef Pevzner says.

According to Pevzner, the director of the hassidic Sinai school network in Paris, those who come to Israel form part of the most committed “core group” of religious and/or Zionist Jews and, as such, are those who have the strongest Jewish identity.

Those who are leaving, he told the Post, have heretofore provided a “reference point” for their less affiliated coreligionists, an important role in light of the high rate of assimilation and intermarriage facing European Jewry.

Overall, 4,390 Western European Jews made aliya, up from 3,258 last year.

“That 19,200 Jews have chosen to establish their lives in Israel is a concrete expression of Israel’s centrality to Jews’ life,” Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said. “This is an era of aliya by choice, rather than aliya of rescue, and so it is important that we continue The Jewish Agency’s efforts to strengthen the young generation’s Jewish identity and deepen their connections to Israel.”

Jewish Agency officials have previously stated that the “age of mass aliya is over” and the agency’s recent activities seem to have shifted to strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora as opposed to encouraging immigration.

Aliya from Latin America increased 34% over the past year with 1,240 new immigrants arriving, while immigration from the UK fell 27% with 510 new arrivals.

Only 270 came from Eastern Europe outside of the former Soviet Union. Despite the rise of the far right Jobbik party, only 160 immigrants came from Hungary. The largest group of immigrants, the official figures indicated, was from the countries of the Former Soviet Union with 7,520 immigrants.

Some 245 immigrants came from the Middle East, with 74 from Turkey and the rest from unspecified Asian and African nations.

Aliya from New Zealand and Australia almost doubled, but remained low at 265. Aliya from Ethiopia was down by 44% due to the completion of Operation Dove’s Wings, which the government claimed brought the last of the country’s Jews to Israel.

However, Ethiopian activists here have complained that members of their community have been left behind.

JTA contributed to this report.

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