(photo credit: Reuters)
Is war talk bad for aliya? Probably, but how much the endless debate over a possible conflict with Iran has affected Jewish immigration to Israel thus far is unclear.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky made headlines Sunday saying “dozens” of would-be olim are deferring plans to move because of the crisis over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, but experts were quick to say Monday that so far such a trend – if it exists – has been relatively negligible.
“So far none of the studies we have done have indicated such an outcome,” said an official dealing with aliya, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid publicly disagreeing with Sharansky.
Steven M. Cohen, a well-known sociologist and expert on Jewish demographics, said he was unaware of such a trend.
“Prospective olim delay their plans to make aliya all the time, just as people delay any important and momentous decision,” he wrote in an email. “Unless officials have been seeing a large uptick in delays or unless they’ve spent some time interviewing potential olim as to the reasons for any change in plans, we would have no way of knowing if unusual delays are occurring or why they may be occurring. Anything is possible, of course. But any speculation of this nature needs to be backed up with evidence.”
Sharansky told Israel Radio on Sunday that a prospective immigrant from an unnamed country told him “we will make aliya when the threat of nuclear war passes.”
“For months we have had dozens of cases where people have canceled their aliya after arrangements that had already been made – where they will live and all that – and suddenly they tell us they have postponed it by a few months,” Sharansky said.
The story was picked up by The Associated Press and ran in major US media outlets like The Washington Post
and The Huffington Post
The Jewish Agency on Monday maintained the chairman’s statement was fact-based, but said the trend remained small.
“In recent months Jewish Agency emissaries are reporting dozens of cases where aliya applicants are asking to defer their arrival,” it said in a statement. “This is still a tiny percentage in comparison with the number of olim who come to Israel each year. Still, every such person who delays his arrival is a huge loss to the country.”
Some 19,000 olim made aliya in 2010 and a similar figure is expected this year.
The Jewish Agency would not say which part of the world the referenced cancellations were from.
Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization facilitating aliya from North America, declined to comment on Sharansky’s statement for this article.
Nonetheless, an anecdotal survey of olim on NBN’s recent flight from New York, organized in cooperation with the Jewish Agency and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, did not seem to indicate newcomers from North America were preoccupied with the Iranian threat.