Young Sabras becoming less supportive of aliya, study shows

Influx of olim every year seen as burden on state; Ethiopian immigrants are made to feel like outcasts in their schools and communities.

June 14, 2011 11:46
4 minute read.
Nefesh B'Nefesh olim

nefesh olim 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)


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Young native Israelis are growing less supportive of continued immigration, and see the arrival of thousands of Jews each year as a burden on the state, a study published by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry on Tuesday reveals.

Presented during its fourth annual conference on immigrant absorption in Ashdod, the survey of 1,000 immigrant and Israeli-born youths showed that 17 percent of those born here felt it was time to stop promoting aliya as an option for Jews worldwide, and 10% said new olim were a burden on the state.

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Despite this negative attitude, the vast majority (85%) of young new immigrants who participated in the study responded that they felt fully Israeli. Additionally, 76% said they speak in Hebrew with their friends, although they continue to speak their mother tongue with their parents.

Some 35% of the immigrant teens expressed a desire to be drafted into a combat unit when it’s their turn to serve in the IDF.

The survey questioned over 1,000 youngsters, including high school students, soldiers and 18-year-olds not serving in the army. Roughly half were immigrants, and half were native-born.

“I think this study does not accurately reflect attitudes,” said Ziva Mekonen-Degu, executive director of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, who spoke on a panel at the conference.

“I think the negative views toward immigrants are much higher than reflected here,” she added. “It is clear to us [at the association] in our daily work that Ethiopian immigrants are made to feel like outcasts in school and in the community.”

Mekonen-Degu said it was up to the government to bridge the gap between the veteran and immigrant communities by allowing each to learn about the other.

“It is not just up to the new immigrants to learn and understand about Israeli society, but also important for Israeli society to understand and embrace the incoming culture,” she said.

“I believe that most youths create their views based on what they hear at home,” said Marina Zamsky, head of the Forum for Immigrants in the North, a non-profit organization that encourages people to embrace those of different cultures and backgrounds living in Israel. “Their opinions are only reflecting those of the adults in our society.”

According to Zamsky, there is a natural tendency for people to feel threatened by new immigrants, who are seen as taking jobs and resources.

“It is common for people to look at what the new immigrants are taking from society – and not necessarily seeing what they are contributing,” she said, adding that prejudices against the immigrant Russian-speaking community in particular fail to highlight the group’s contribution to the country’s economic growth during the 1990s.

“New immigrants arrived here in the 1990s and brought with them manpower and technology,” Zamsky said. “Besides, there is always a discussion about the demographic threat against the Jews in the region, and the only way we can keep the Jewish character of this state is via aliya.”

The latest figures released from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency at the end of 2010 show that more than 19,000 people moved to Israel last year, marking a rise of 16% over the previous year, and continuing the upward trend in aliya that began in 2009.

Many of those making Israel their new home came from free and democratic Western countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States – with the average age of new immigrants from the West falling to just below 30.

Immigrants also arrived from places as diverse as Venezuela, Malta, Japan and Rwanda. However, the largest groups came from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Germany, with 7,700 people (40% of 2010’s new immigrants) arriving from these countries.

Speaking at the conference on Tuesday, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said: “Only a country that dedicates its resources to absorbing new immigrants will receive the best results. A country that invests in teaching the language and cares about employment and housing for its immigrants will be able to overcome the challenges in absorbing them.”

She added: “I intend to strengthen the bond between my ministry and the Education Ministry, and to increase the number of young immigrants who are eligible to take their matriculation exams. And I will continue to emphasize our welfare programs designed to keep immigrant youths off the streets and away from drugs and alcohol.”

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