Fewer immigrants could come to Israel because of coronavirus - MKs

But Jewish Agency, Nefesh B’Nefesh find aliyah inquiries still at peak

NEW ‘OLIM’ wave excitedly after arriving in Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
NEW ‘OLIM’ wave excitedly after arriving in Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The recent rise in coronavirus cases in Israel could dampen predictions of mass aliyah that were made when Israel was viewed as a success in fighting the virus, opposition MKs Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) and Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beytenu) said Tuesday.
Razbozov, a former chairman of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, said he has noticed a dramatic turnaround for the worse regarding Israel’s reputation among prospective immigrants due to the second wave of the virus.
“When we were viewed as handling the virus successfully, I received many inquiries from people who said they wanted to make aliyah,” Razbozov said. “But now they aren’t contacting me anymore. We are looking less attractive now. People want to go to a more secure place.”
Malinovsky said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to blame for the rise in coronavirus cases and its impact on aliyah.
“Netanyahu, who said on every stage that Israel is the world leader in the low pace of infection, led the public to indifference, so now Israel has become a ‘red country’ when much of the world has improved,” she said. “The predictions of a rise in aliyah due in the near future have become grim because Israel is now seen as a country with one of the highest infection rates.”
Malinovsky and Razbozov referred to positive predictions made when Israel’s coronavirus numbers were more positive.
Israel will absorb 250,000 new immigrants within three to five years, Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog said two weeks ago at The Jerusalem Post virtual conference “COVID-19 and the Jews: Challenges and Opportunities.
Sources close to Herzog said he made the same prediction to journalists last week and would say the same now. The perception abroad remains that Israel has handled the outbreak of the virus well, based on relatively low morbidity rates, the sources said.
The Jewish Agency’s global center has seen a dramatic rise in inquiries about moving to Israel and aliyah files opened, and that has not changed along with the numbers of coronavirus cases in Israel, Agency officials said.
“This crisis will eventually end, and Israel must get ready for it,” a source close to Herzog said.
But immigration to Israel is being harmed by a lack of flights and because offices that handle the bureaucracy needed to immigrate are closed around the world. Agency officials said because making aliyah is a long process, those moving now made their decision before the coronavirus outbreak.
Nefesh B’Nefesh, which handles aliyah from the US, UK and Canada, said it is still seeing a steady rise aliyah.
On Tuesday, the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee called upon the government to extend absorption benefits for recent immigrants because they were not able to learn Hebrew due to the virus closing intensive language courses. The request, which would cost NIS 43 million, was made by committee chairman David Bitan (Likud) and initiated by Razbozov.