Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett is planning to formulate an action plan to increase immigration of French Jews to Israel, after telling the cabinet on Sunday that Israel had missed “an historic opportunity” to bring tens of thousands of French Jews to the Jewish state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the request following Bennett’s briefing to the cabinet.
Aliyah from France spiked in 2014 and 2015 following rising incidents of violent antisemitic attacks and terror incidents
, peaking at almost 7,500 immigrants from France in 2015 from an average of approximately 1,900 immigrants from 2010 to 2012.
Netanyahu told French Jews in Paris in 2015 that Israel was their home and that they would be warmly welcomed, and that a special team of ministers would convene to formulate a plan to increase immigration from France.
It was thought that large numbers of French Jews would quickly make aliyah, but numbers trailed off very quickly. Fewer than 18,000 have immigrated since 2015, and just 2,300 are expected to have come in 2018.
Problems integrating into the country and finding work, especially for those needing professional credentials recognized, are frequently cited as significant causes for why mass Jewish immigration from France did not transpire.
In 2015, then Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, together with the head of the World Zionist Organization and aliya groups, drew up a detailed document stipulating what measures would be required to attract 50,000 French Jews to Israel – but the plan was never implemented.
“There has been an historic missed opportunity by Israeli governments over recent years,” Bennett told the cabinet on Sunday, stating that there are 200,000 French Jews who want to immigrate to Israel, but that the country and its institutions are unprepared for such immigration.
A poll in 2015 conducted by the IFOP research institute in France found that about 40%, or approximately 200,000 of the 500,000 strong French Jewish community were interested in varying degrees in immigrating to Israel.
“These are people who are Zionists, who have values, who love the Jewish people and the Land of Israel – and it is an ethical obligation to pick up the gauntlet and help them,” the Diaspora affairs minister said.
THE EDUCATION Ministry said that Netanyahu had requested that Bennett draw up an action plan, in cooperation with the National Economic Council, to increase aliyah from France, which he is to present to a special working group in the Ministerial Committee for Immigration and Absorption, comprising Ministers Yariv Levin, Zeev Elkin and Moshe Kahlon, among others. There is not yet a formal timeline for presenting the plan to the working group.
Ariel Kandel, director of the Qualita umbrella organization for French immigrants in Israel, welcomed the initiative, describing the Immigration Ministry’s efforts until now as a failure, but adding that the government in general had failed to recognize the challenges that potential French immigrants face.
Kandel said that the main reason why mass aliyah from France had not happened was because most government officials had not been convinced such a phenomenon was possible and had therefore not acted appropriately.
He added that the major stumbling blocks for potential immigrants from France are finding work, housing and solutions for child-care after school hours.
“This is the 21st century, and if there is not a clear program [for assisting immigrants], you can’t just tell people to make aliyah – it won’t work,” Kandel told The Jerusalem Post.
He said that there are “tens of thousands of French Jews in the suburbs of Paris, Lyon and Marseille where there is “rampant” antisemitism, and where the Jewish communities are not particularly wealthy.
“These people cannot just get up in the morning and make aliyah if they don’t have help financially and are not assisted with employment, learning the language, and with housing at least in their first year,” he said.
Asked why the current initiative would be different from previous efforts, Kandel said that the coalition had changed recently and that there were now people in the government who cared about the issue of French aliyah, a reference to Yisrael Beytenu which quit the government recently and which has controlled the Immigration and Absorption Ministry for several years, focusing largely on immigration from the former Soviet Union.
“With changes in the coalition, there is a new opening to think about this community [of French Jews] again, and for us to make a real effort,” Kandel said. “What was said this morning was good news for the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
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