More than a third of Jews in France are considering aliya, the Immigrant and Absorption Ministry said as it presented the Knesset on Tuesday evening with its plan to increase aliya from the country.
Last December the ministry and the Jewish Agency announced that they were planning several programs in France for this year, including the creation of “a joint task force to reach out to Israelis living abroad and strengthen their connections to Israel.”
The ministry expanded this week on its earlier announcement, adding that it would seek to reach out to the 300,000 French Jews who have a “cultural affinity [but] are not connected to the community and tend to assimilate.”
The government effort will involve increasing the budget for activities and programs aimed at promoting immigration run by the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization and the United Israel Appeal, a spokesman for the agency told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the ministry’s figures, there are some 700,000 people in France eligible to come to Israel under the Law of Return.
Last year saw 3,348 move to Israel, it said, a 63 percent increase over 2012. Many ascribe the migration to Europe’s economic problems and the rising specter of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish violence in France.
French Jews are close to Israel, the ministry said, with nearly 60% having first-degree relatives in the Jewish state.
The ministry asserted that fully 36% of them are considering aliya. A third of French Jews intend to remain in the country, the ministry added.
High youth unemployment rates and the general desire among young Frenchmen to emigrate can be leveraged to increase aliya, the ministry said.
Recent findings by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency indicated that a third of Jews from several Western European countries were considering emigration due to anti-Semitism, but it is not clear that Israel is the only destination that they are considering.
Avi Zana, who heads Ami, a French-Israeli NGO that promotes aliya, told the Post that he believed the new government push was “very important,” but that he did not think it was enough.
Citing an annual budget increase of between $4 million and $5m. for the new programs, he said that the “plan is big, but the budget is low” and that additional funds would be needed.
The ministry disagreed, with the ministry spokesman shooting back that funds would enable the organizations taking part to significantly ramp up their activities.
“You need to remember that these are things that we did not have before, so when they say that is a low budget, I think it’s a [relatively] big budget,” he said.
Ariel Kandel, the head of the Jewish Agency’s delegation to France, agreed, telling the Post that the budget increase would allow his organization to double the number of French speakers employed in its Israeli call center and to increase the number of emissaries in France.
Delays in seeing agency representatives due to manpower shortages have been a persistent issue for many French Jews interested in making aliya, the Ami organization has asserted.
According to Kandel, five additional French speakers will be hired to work in the agency’s 24-hour call center.
Additionally, between five and seven agency employees are to be added to the 25 active in France.
The government push will also allow the Jewish Agency to hold aliya information sessions up to four times a week, rather than the one weekly gathering currently held, Kandel said. Fairs highlighting immigration opportunities and promoting participation in Israel experience programs such as Masa will be held much more often as well, he said.
The Jewish Agency intends to use the new resources allocated to it to help prepare new immigrants for the Israeli job market, Kandel added.
Kandel estimated that French aliya would increase significantly this year, a feeling shared by Hebrew University of Jerusalem demographer Sergio Dellapergola.
“I would not be surprised if this year the number would approach 5,000,” Dellapergola told the Post.
According to Kandel, the agency’s informational evenings now draw about 800 participants every month, which he said is twice as high as last year, indicating a heightened interest in aliya.
Speaking with the Post, Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said that her ministry is looking for ways to ease the transition for medical practitioners and other professionals looking to transfer their degrees and accreditations, which is a long and difficult process.
Landver expressed her hope that the plan would allow Israel to reach out to people less affiliated with the Jewish community and to “strengthen their Jewish” identity.
Both the Jewish Agency and the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry have described this emphasis on identity as one of Israel’s major challenges in its relations with the Diaspora. The government has committed to more than double its investment in overseas Jewish identity programming to NIS 1 billion a year, in the form of the prime minister’s World Jewry Joint Initiative.
Responding to the ministry agenda, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky told the Post that it is “an excellent example of how, at this critical point in time, the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel, represented by the [immigration and absorption minister,] are working in full cooperation to maximize our resources and ensure that aliya from France is as robust and successful as possible.
“We will continue to ensure that our activities are coordinated with government efforts to guarantee the recognition of academic credentials, develop new absorption programs, and take all other steps necessary for French olim’s successful integration into Israeli society,” Sharansky said.