Dozens file into Rabin Square October 14 to learn about how to emigrate to Berlin.
(photo credit: Lahav Harkov)
A growing number of Israelis are leaving for more than a year and fewer are returning after being abroad for more than a year. This was the gist of a Central Bureau of Statistics report published last week.
The figures relate to the year 2015 because CBS researchers wait a year to determine how many of the Israelis who left in 2015 remained abroad for more than a year. A total of 16,700 Israelis exited Israel in 2015 for more than a year. In contrast, just 8,500 returned after a sojourn of more than a year. These numbers are, respectively, higher and lower than in previous years.
Taken in comparison to other Western countries of similar size, however, Israel’s ability to retain its population is remarkable, particularly considering that the Jewish state faces constant security threats and is geographically isolated as a religious minority in a hostile, Muslim-dominated Middle East.
Israel’s retention rate is all the more amazing considering the fact that Israel produces more scientists, engineers and hi-tech workers per capita than most other Western countries while offering a relatively limited job market compared to the huge economies of North America and Europe. Many Israelis emigrate not because they want to but because they must in order to realize their potential professionally speaking.
Another factor that contributes to emigration is the fact that Israel is a country of immigrants. As in other countries such as Britain or Germany, immigrants are much more likely to pick up and leave than people who were born and raised in the same country. The CBS report revealed that 54% of those who left Israel for more than a year in 2015 were born outside Israel. Most were from Europe, North America or Australia.
Yet, even though Israel’s retention rate is remarkably high considering the special circumstances of the Jewish state, Israelis fret over emigration rates.
There are a number of reasons for Israelis’ hypersensitivity to emigration or, as it is derogatorily referred to in Hebrew, yerida [descent in English].
Israelis are acutely aware that the future of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic country depends on maintaining a solid Jewish majority. The two-state solution’s continued relevance, despite so many developments mitigating against its viability, comes from the realization that Israel cannot incorporate millions of Palestinians without endangering its Jewish character.
Ultimately, emigrations impact directly on demographics, which in turn are a central element in the very foundation of Israel as a uniquely Jewish state.
Israelis are also strongly influenced by Zionist ideology that views Jewish existence in exile as mentally and morally poor, spiritually disfigured and humiliating because Jews rely on the largesse of their hosts and not their own strengths and abilities and political autonomy. This mindset only strengthened after the Holocaust.
And because Jewish continuity is important to Israelis, emigration is seen as a threat. Israelis – particularly the secular – tend to be more prone to assimilation and intermarriage in the Diaspora because they are unversed in the behaviors that tend to foster continuity in a gentile environment.
As Israel prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state, the government has begun a campaign to encourage expatriates to come home. Called “Returning at 70,” the Aliya and Integration Ministry will provide returning Israelis with financial assistance for six months and will even cover a portion of their salaries to give them breathing space to find work. The government is also offering free professional development courses and consulting. An Israeli who opened a business abroad can receive about $14,000 to help him or her relocate and those who choose to move to priority areas in the North or the South will be eligible for grants and loans at low interest rates.
While we support these measures, the ability of Israel to retain its population depends on more than perks.
The cost of living remains exorbitant; more needs to be done to improve economic productivity; we should be more courteous and tolerant of one another.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Israel, though, is finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There are no easy solutions but solving this conflict should remain a priority.