Israel Zionist Council blasts cabinet over program to bring back ex-pats

Study finds that children of Israelis abroad are assimilating quickly.

olim yordim 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olim yordim 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
"Financial incentives are not a factor for Israeli ex-pats who are considering returning home," said Israel Zionist Council head Moshe Ben-Atar on Sunday in response to government approval for an NIS 140m. incentive program to bring Israeli yordim back to Israel. The cabinet on Sunday approved a NIS 150 million plan presented by Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'akov Edri to offer benefits to Israelis living abroad for under two years if they return home. Instead, argued Ben-Atar, whose organization is the Israeli branch of the World Zionist Organization, the effort and money "must go in a different direction, in fostering Jewish identity and a connection to Israel among the children of yordim," many of whom grew up or were born outside Israel. "Most of the people who come to Israel don't come because of the small financial incentives," Ben-Atar claimed. "Surveys show they want family, a connection to the land and to the people. We have to invest in Israelis living in Jewish communities overseas. And there are ways to reach those who don't connect to Jewish communities - for example, investment in Jewish education, bringing the young on visits, sending them to camps." The efforts should focus on the young, Ben-Atar believes. "How do we create employment tracks for young people in Israel? How do we define the sense of belonging among the young, and are we investing in that sense? The education system certainly doesn't deal with it. These are the questions that the Immigrant Absorption Ministry isn't dealing with." A ministry official responded to the criticism by noting that "Israelis overseas are Zionists. You can't generalize and say they're a crowd whose connection to Israel is weak. There are many Zionists who contributed to the state, served it in the military. The motivations to leave were not because of weakened identification." "Alongside the emotional call that they should come home, and the activities to strengthen their identity and connection to the state, we have to provide a real opportunity. They need practical job security. It's a global world and we have to understand that the desire to return home isn't enough. There has to be a real chance to do so," the official said. Ben-Atar's position is supported by a recently published survey that found that the young generation of Jews born to Israeli expatriates is in danger of losing its Jewish and Israeli identity. The Rappaport Center for Assimilation Research and Strengthening Jewish Vitality of Bar-Ilan University found that children of Israelis who left the country to seek their fortune elsewhere are undergoing a process of speedy assimilation, Israel Radio reported Saturday overnight. A quarter of young Israelis living in Europe are intermarrying and 60 percent of them do not belong to any Jewish community and do not participate in any Jewish activities. The study found a gap between the Israeli identity of expatriates, those who were born in Israel but decided to leave, and their children, who were born abroad. The parents' generation, despite having made the choice to leave the Jewish state, continues to retain its Jewish identity in the Diaspora. In 2007, 4,000 young Israelis returned to Israel. According to a recent study conducted by the ministry, some 700,000 Israelis live outside of the country, with 60 percent in North America, 25% in Europe and 15% spread across the rest of the world.