french olim 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem clearly has a housing problem. Part of that problem is caused by non-resident Jews from abroad, primarily the United States and France, who buy second homes in the city and live in them for only a brief part of the year. This drives up the price of real estate, prevents an increasing number of young families from purchasing apartments here, and forces them out of the city. The recently defeated Safdie plan for the expansion of west Jerusalem was, ostensibly, designed to alleviate the crisis, but its costs to the environment were deemed too great.
It has been suggested by some that one way to deal with the crisis is to impose much higher purchase and real-estate taxes on non-resident foreigners who buy apartments in Jerusalem. If nothing else, this would presumably slow down the rate of apartments being bought by foreigners and allow more full-time residents to live in the city.
What proponents of higher taxation for non-residents fail to realize is that for some of those "foreigners" the purchase of a home in Israel is a step in their aliya process. Even for those not contemplating full-time aliya, their purchase of a home here strengthens their ties with Israel, and that is surely to Israel's advantage.
Given the concern expressed about the growing distancing of Diaspora Jewry from Israel, one would expect that approaches which strengthen the ties of Diaspora Jewry to Israel would be welcomed. Rather than penalizing them, it is in Israel's interest to encourage Jews in the Diaspora to enhance their bonds with Israel even if they do not contemplate becoming full-time Israelis. With globalization, increasing numbers of people are becoming transnationals, and we have to begin thinking of migration and aliya in new ways.
Indeed, due to this phenomenon of transnationalism, the traditional view of aliya is outmoded. New patterns of multinationalism have emerged. For example, it is estimated that among the families who made aliya from the US during the past 10 years, between 20 percent and 30% have one head of household who works in the US. Many more olim, especially those from Western countries, probably commute to work in European counties, as do increasing numbers of native Israelis. In other cases, people split their time, spending part of their year abroad and part in Israel. In still other cases, individuals and families move to Israel for a set period of time, such as a year, two, or even five years.
Patterns such as these are not unique to Israel and the US. "Transnational studies" is a growing academic field, and students of immigration patterns in other countries, such as the US, Europe and Asia, have been studying them and are attempting to suggest new ways for conceiving of immigration and immigrant rights.
IN LIGHT of these developments, Israel should be encouraging Diaspora Jews to purchase homes here, to spend their vacations here, to send their children to schools here for a semester, a year, or more, and to send them to camps here in the summertime.
Diaspora Jewry should also be encouraged to spend at least part of their retirement years here. Fostering these kinds of overt bonds will, of course, require that the institutional structure in Israel be equipped to attract and handle the needs of the Diaspora Jews. It will mean that the purchase of homes by non-resident Israelis will be encouraged; that there will be in Israel schools and camps that are equipped to handle young overseas Jews and, ideally, encourage their building of bonds with full-time Israeli youth and young adults; that facilities geared to the retirement population will be available; and more.
Preparing the way will not be easy or inexpensive but it will more than pay for itself by stimulating further social, political and economic ties between Diaspora Jewry and Israel.
Above and beyond the issue of enhancing ties, given that real-estate taxes are within local jurisdictions, the New Yorker or Parisian who purchases a residence in Jerusalem should be viewed and treated as no different than the Herzliyan or Tel Avivian who does the same. The housing crisis needs to be alleviated but not at the expense of the country's welfare. Neither western expansion nor western taxation will produce the desired end.
One alternative is the gentrification of some of the city's neighborhoods that have some available housing and the potential for more but are undesirable because they lack infrastructure, such as quality schools and other necessary services. Investing in those, rather than destroying either the natural environment or the bonds between Diaspora Jews and Israel, may prove to be the win-win alternative.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, and is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Jewish Studies, Rutgers University.