Record low emigration numbers supported by underwhelming 'Milky Protest' attendance

Several dozen Israelis, fewer than 4% of the 2,300 who responded "attending" on Facebook, squeezed into a square of grass that was not included in the "Sovev Tel Aviv" festivities.

October 14, 2014 20:52
3 minute read.

Dozens file into Rabin Square October 14 to learn about how to emigrate to Berlin. (photo credit: Lahav Harkov)

Fewer than 100 young people filed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Tuesday to learn about how to emigrate to Berlin, corroborating a Central Bureau of Statistics report that a record low number of Israelis were actually leaving the country.

The Tel Aviv event followed the online “Milky Protest,” in which the anonymous founder of the “Olim Le Berlin” (Going Up to Berlin) Facebook group posted a receipt from a supermarket in the German city, showing that the chocolate pudding with whipped cream costs significantly less there than it does in Israel.

Protests against the cost of living in Israel are not new – hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Tel Aviv in 2011 – but CBS data shows more Israelis would rather buy expensive pudding than leave their country.

In 2012, the year after the major social protests, the number of émigrés – people who left Israel and stayed abroad for over a year – went down to 15,900, the lowest since the establishment of the state, the CBS reported.

Nearly a quarter of them had returned to the country or reported a planned return date as of April 2014.

Most of those who left the country were not born in Israel, and 25 percent of them are not Jewish. Many had moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union since 1990. The average age for émigrés is 28.1.

About 13,500 expats moved back to Israel in the same year, meaning the net loss was 2,400, as opposed to the annual average of 10,000 during the period of 1986- 2008. If aliya numbers are taken into consideration, then Israel gained 15,600 citizens, as 18,000 Jews immigrated to the country in 2012.

The CBS estimates that 549,000-582,000 Israelis live abroad, with more in the US than anywhere else, followed by Canada, Germany and the UK.

The organizer of the emigration fair in Rabin Square, a 25-year-old Israeli and former IDF officer living in Berlin, has refused to identify himself or give interviews to the Israeli press, but reports have indicated that he is connected to a real estate agency or a language school in Berlin and that his Facebook group and fair may be motivated by his business.

The anonymous organizer planned the entire event from his home in Berlin, but did not ask permission from the Tel Aviv Municipality.

The emigration fair took place the night before the “Sovev Tel Aviv” bicycle race, and Rabin Square was full of bicycle-related booths and signs, leaving little room for anything else.

Several dozen Israelis, fewer than 4% of the 2,300 who responded as “attending” on Facebook, squeezed into a square of grass that was not included in the race festivities.

The crowd consisted mostly of 30-somethings who appeared to be single and secular, with a large representation of immigrants from the former Soviet Union – as the CBS data indicated – and of members of the press.

They loitered in the square, debating such topics as the true meaning of capitalism and its application to Israel, the price of electric bicycles in Europe, and the business practices of former IDB chairman Nochi Dankner.

An elderly man passing by shouted at those gathered, “Young people shouldn’t leave, they should topple [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] and do reserve duty! What are you looking for in Berlin?” A young woman responded, “You can’t force us to stay.”

Assaf Lev, a 40-year-old doctoral candidate living in Tel Aviv and sporting an “I Love Berlin” T-shirt, said he had dual Israeli and German citizenship and often visited the city.

“People shouldn’t stay where they’re unhappy. There is no future here, so people should leave to have better lives,” he posited.

According to Lev, “it’s not that we hate Israel, it’s that we’ve lost hope and realize it’s better elsewhere. We’re not captives here; we see there’s an alternative.”

Raymond Perhees, who lives in The Netherlands but is spending two months in Israel and considering aliya, scoffed at those gathered.

“Wherever you live, you can find a reason to complain. It’s easy to complain, but it’s better to be happy with the good things,” he said.

“There are challenges everywhere,” he added, saying his mother, a Holocaust survivor, had taught him he could always overcome them.

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