The next generation

Young people in Israel still feel a strong connection to their country, but they are frustrated with the lack of professional opportunities and the difficult financial situation.

February 26, 2015 21:51
Natan Sharansky Sofa Landver Beit Brodetsky Center

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver join young immigrants from around the world in dedicating the Beit Brodetsky Center for Young Immigrants in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: ZED FILMS)


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If you try to calculate how many Israelis have left and live overseas, you’ll have a hard time. Each government ministry offers different data, and probably none of them is accurate.

According to the most realistic figures the Israeli and US government authorities have come up with, there are probably between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Israelis living outside of Israel’s borders, the vast majority of whom live in the US.

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Official Israeli data shows that there is a positive trend of immigration to Israel, but we cannot ignore the fact that the number of Israelis leaving and moving overseas for work opportunities or to resettle is constantly rising. According to a study by Meida Shivuki, 37 percent of Israeli citizens are considering leaving so that they can improve their standard of living.

In a recent discussion that took place during a Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee session, alarming statistics were quoted that show an extremely high number of Israelis who made aliya from the former Soviet Union have gone to live overseas. Although most of them moved to the US, some returned to Russia and a small minority settled in Europe. According to the data, 80,000 immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union left due to lack of job opportunity, the inability to acculturate, extremely low salaries and/or difficulty getting into college.

According to a study carried out by the Guttman Center for Surveys, the majority of olim from the former Soviet Union who left Israel after living her for a few years, arrived in the most recent wave of aliya. The proportion of immigrants from this group who plan to remain in Israel permanently has dropped from 63% to 40%.

As Israel is heavily reliant on its human resources for income, aliya is a very important factor for our GDP. In other words, these numbers are quite alarming. It is important to investigate what led to this troubling situation.

In the field of education, the situation is absolutely alarming. The state does not offer programs of excellence for gifted students and has not made any effort to create a foundation for national cultural education. It has not allocated funding to decrease classroom size or subsidize afternoon programs so that parents can work. Despite reforms, teacher salaries have not increased, and as a result it has been extremely difficult to improve the quality of instruction.

The situation is not any better in higher education, where academic institutions are not developed and are dominated by rigid and self-serving regulators. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get accepted to university, which means that the country can offer fewer high-level research grants and other incentives to remain in Israel.

The average salary has been falling consistently over the past few years and families are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. Not all college graduates find work and those that do often find jobs with extremely low salaries (even in companies where top managers make millions). The minimum wage has increased over the years, but it lags behind the cost of living.

The authorities are not taking the necessary steps to reduce the cost of living, and monopolies continue to rule the market. The government should allow imports to be brought in and bolster small and medium- size companies here in Israel. Introducing competition is always a great way to improve the health of a country’s market. In real estate, not only have housing prices not fallen as promised, they have risen significantly.

The government promised to release state land and land owned by the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, which would speed up housing starts and eventually bring down prices. The government promised to provide low-cost housing for the underprivileged, but has failed to follow through.

In almost every sector, the government has failed to make good on its promises: staple foods were supposed to become exempt from value-added tax, and bank fees and excise tax on cars were supposed to be reduced.

Since they were not, young families are finding it hard to pay their bills. Young people in Israel still feel a strong connection to their country, but they are frustrated with the lack of professional opportunities and the difficult financial situation.

The sad result is that many find their way to the US or Europe in search of an easier life. People working in academia, science and hi-tech – our best minds – are unfortunately finding better opportunities outside Israel, where they receive recognition, higher salaries and better conditions.

We must understand that in our struggle for the right to live in our land, we are dealing with fundamentalists who are following what they consider a divine vision. They are willing to give up everything and suffer any consequence to achieve their goal of turning the Middle East (and then the entire world) into one big Islamic caliphate.

We the Jews, on the other hand, after so many years of hard work and toil to build a Jewish state, now relax and hope to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The easy way of life in the West looks tempting. The combination of the increased cost of living in Israel and the ongoing security threat make the thought of living overseas seem even sweeter. As a result, many of our young people are looking to the horizon and contemplating a move to the US or Europe.

The only way we can beat this phenomenon is to clearly state what our national vision is and provide a plan with which we can tackle our domestic problems. This is the only way we will be able to solve our problems and convince the younger generation that it’s worth its while to stay home.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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