In the not too distant past, Israeli emigrés were considered enemies of the
state. Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin once famously called Israelis living
abroad an “avalanche of wimps,” and the state does not go out of its way to
accommodate them. But if Yogev Karasenty, a fellow at the Jewish People Policy
Institute, has his way that will no longer be the case.
The Jewish policy
wonk argued in two papers published this week that the government should provide
the roughly 600,000 Israelis living outside the country a range of services and
give some of them the right to vote.
“The previous objections to yerida
no longer exist and perhaps deservedly so,” Karasenty said on Monday, using the
Hebrew term for Jewish emigration from Israel. “The question is how do you
continue to involve Israelis living abroad in Judaism and Israel?”
are familiar. The world is flat, the global markets are more integrated
than ever and the flow of people is catching up with the flow of
“Israel’s economic dynamo is the hi-tech industry and its
residents often spend stints abroad where they work in the marketing and
development of products,” he said.
Given the changing realities,
Karasenty argues the so-called Start-Up Nation should stop ignoring its citizens
outside the country, particularly those who leave for short
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, some 80 percent
of Israeli emigrés who eventually return home do so within four years of leaving
the country, Karasenty said. This group, which numbers between 20,000 and 60,000
people and lives mostly in North America and Western Europe, should be allowed
to vote in Israeli elections during their first four years overseas.
they were to vote in the elections they would elect one or two lawmakers to the
Knesset,” he said.
Similar proposals have been made with some regularity
over the past couple of decades, but none has come close to being
Many have voiced opposition to putting electoral power on
crucial issues pertaining to war and peace in the hands of people who live far
away and will not necessary have to deal with the consequences. But Karasenty
said his proposal would bestow such rights only on people who are likely to
He goes even further. Israel, he said, should invest in the
education of children born to Israeli parents living abroad who may have left
the country decades ago.
He cited a popular kindergarten in Moscow where
children have an Israeli curriculum.
That institution is profitable, he
said. Israel might provide grant money to create similar ones that would then
have to pay for themselves.
The government might also consider
subsidizing education at Jewish day schools, Karasenty said. Israeli emigrés are
often put off by Jewish private schools because of the high tuition fees.
Instead, they send their children to state schools that are cheaper. To
strengthen the children’s Jewish and Israeli identities, the government should
examine ways of making it easier for Israelis abroad to give their children an
“Many times they are not associated with the Jewish
community,” he said. “Making Jewish education more affordable will help maintain
their connection to Israel.”
One might wonder why Israel, whose own
lackluster school system is thirsty for funds, should invest precious resources
in Jewish schools in New York or London instead of in peripheral towns like
Sderot and Karmiel, or even in affluent Ra’anana, for that matter. On this point
the think tank fellow concedes that the government faces difficult choices;
however, he added that the right balance that would address both issues could be
Perhaps Karasenty’s most ambitious suggestion is that Israel set
up a network of cultural centers around the world in the mold of the UK’s
British Council, Spain’s Cervantes Institute or Germany’s Goethe Institute.
Indeed, the Jewish Agency is experimenting with a similar concept in
But while this may be fine for the wealthy countries of Western
Europe, can Israel afford such a luxury?
“The real question is whether we allow
ourselves to continue ignoring Israeli citizens abroad,” Karasenty
countered. “We need to figure out how to stay engaged and in touch with
our citizens abroad.”