Jewish Agency rejects claims French Jews applying for aliyah for passport

“French Jews have a strong attachment to Israel, many have family here, and they have a strong loyalty to the State of Israel,” said Shai Felber.

The Star of David is seen on the facade of a synagogue in Paris France, December 10, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES)
The Star of David is seen on the facade of a synagogue in Paris France, December 10, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/GONZALO FUENTES)
The Jewish Agency has rejected claims that half of French Jews who have applied to make aliyah in recent months are doing so only to obtain an Israeli passport.
Earlier this week, Mekor Rishon reported that a senior official within the Jewish Agency had "estimated" that half of recent French applicants for aliyah were doing so just to obtain an Israeli passport.
Shay Felber, director-general of the Jewish Agency Integration and Aliyah Unit, told The Jerusalem Post that there would be no way to make such a determination, and noted that those interviewed by the Jewish Agency and who formalize their aliyah application, need to declare that they intend to live in Israel.
Felber also said that the percentage of French Jews who make aliyah and then leave was in single digits.
“French Jews have a strong attachment to Israel, many have family here, and they have a strong loyalty to the State of Israel,” he said.
“Applying for aliyah just to get an Israeli passport and trick Israeli officials does not seem characteristic of French Jewry.”
An Israeli passport afforded little advantage over a French passport in terms of visa-free access to other countries, he said.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel has witnessed a massive spike in aliyah applications from Jews across the world, including from France.
May applications to the Jewish Agency to open an aliyah file were 277% higher than for May 2019, while applications in August were also 200% higher than the same month last year.
Ariel Kandel, head of Qualita, which assists French-Jewish immigrants in the absorption process, also rejected claims that many aliyah applicants from France were merely seeking an Israeli passport.
Kandel said there could be no data to support such an assertion, and that the only way to know would be to check how many new immigrants left Israel after a year, or more.
He said a large proportion of French Jews spend extended periods in Israel, including businesspeople, and those with close family members here, and such visitors might find it more convenient to hold an Israeli passport, rather than rely on a tourist visa.
However, the overall numbers of travelers who come for a lengthy stay is small, and in sharing their time between Israel and France visitors nevertheless contributed to the economy and to society, and could not be accused of abusing their right to Israeli citizenship.
Separately, Kandel lamented that a recent program for at-risk youth of French origin has had to close down because of a failure to pass the state budget.
The “Mehubarim” (Connected) program served 2,000 youth from a low socioeconomic background at community centers in Jerusalem, Netanya and Ashdod.
French youth have suffered from a dearth of afternoon educational, or recreational activities after school and delinquency has become a worry.
Mehubarim was established to address this but Kandel said youths who had benefited from the program had now been “thrown onto the streets” along with the 30 staff who ran it.
Kandel said the program costs NIS 4 million per year and would require another NIS 1m. to keep it going until the end of 2020.
A spokesman for Higher Education and Water Resources Minister Ze’ev Elkin, whose ministry has responsibility for Mehubarim, declined to comment.