Almost 30,000 Jews moved to Israel in 2015, up from 26,500 last year, the largest influx in 15 years, according to the Jewish Agency.
Aliya has been on the rise in recent years, driven largely by the flow of emigrants from France and Ukraine, with this year’s increase following last year’s 32-percent surge in newcomers, which at the time Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky characterized as “a year of record-breaking aliya.”
France became the leading source of immigrants for the first time in 2014 with almost 7,000, double the number from 2013. This year’s numbers mark a 10% increase over last year, with 7,900 French Jews relocating here.
“Each has his or her reason, including the economic crisis, personal security, terrorist attacks and, in some places and times, an anti-Jewish mood,” agency spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Thursday.
Though not final, the immigration figure falls short of Sharansky’s prediction in January following the kosher market attack and the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris
that more than 10,000 French Jews would move to Israel this year.
The shortfall may be accounted for by the difficulties white-collar immigrants face in obtaining employment here, said Dr. Dov Maimon, senior fellow at the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute.
“Thousands of French Jews have opened files at JAFI [the Jewish Agency for Israel] and many more investigate aliya. Unfortunately, the lack of effort to let them work in their professional training in Israel make them reluctant to take the risk of aliya,” he said.
“We are losing a historical opportunity to welcome a very educated aliya because of short-term political calculations and inability to oppose the professional [associations. Prime Minister] Netanyahu has invited the French Jews to join the Zionist adventure but didn’t deliver the promises he made to them to ease the recognition of diplomas, and ease their relocation [such as decreasing taxation on French Jewish companies that want to relocate and creating jobs in Israel for their brethren].”
The issue has aroused such anger that French-Jewish lawmaker Meyer Habib
threatened last week that he would call on French Jews not to make aliya if the state does not fully recognize French academic degrees.
“If there is no tangible progress on the matter within three months, I will recommend to French Jews [that they] postpone or cancel their aliya,” he said.
According to Palmor, a high number of arrivals from economically troubled Russia and civil war-torn Ukraine contributed to the wider Jewish immigration to Israel reaching its highest level in 15 years.
According to data from the Absorption Ministry, Ukrainian aliya, largely driven by a Russian-backed civil war and concomitant economic malaise, rose 11%. As of mid-December, 6,953 Ukrainians had arrived, up from 5,921 last year.
“I would guess that the majority of the olim from Ukraine are coming from the Donbass region, which is under occupation and attack by the Russian/separatist forces. In general, we see aliya as the inalienable right of every Jew and a positive step. The aliya of approximately 7,000 Jews from Ukraine is approximately 2% of the total Jewish population in Ukraine,” said Yaakov Dov Bleich, the country’s American-born chief rabbi.
As for emigration, while data for 2014-2015 were not available, a spokeswoman for the Central Bureau of Statistics said that in 2013, “16,200 Israeli citizens went abroad and stayed abroad more than one year,” while “8,900 Israeli citizens came back to Israel after spending more than one year abroad.”
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews announced earlier this month that it would expand its own aliya program, which has been a bone of contention between it and its former partners at the Jewish Agency.
“Since launching its aliya program in December 2014, the Fellowship has brought more than 2,000 olim to Israel, mostly from Ukraine but also from France, Moldova, the Spanish North African city of Mellila, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela and an unnamed Arab country,” the organization said.
“In 2016, due to rising global anti-Semitism and violence, the Fellowship aims to expand its aliya activities worldwide within countries, as well as Spain, Russia and beyond, and double the number of new olim it brings to Israel to 4,000.”
Reuters and Lidar Gravé-Lazi contributed to this report.