Immigration to Israel: who came, who stayed away
This posting contains two articles by Anshel Pfeffer on diaspora Jews and Israel, plus one from Jonathan Kaplan of the Jewish Agency on the mass migration in the few years after the war. It has three tables on how many immigrated from which country/continent in which year.
Front-page story in JPost, - these are the immigrants Israel wants to announce: “Droves of new immigrants arrived in Israel Tuesday from all over the world, with 494 olim landing at Ben Gurion airport during the course of the day and another 220 expected tomorrow. The new immigrants are arriving from North America, Brazil, France, Belgium, Italy, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the countries of the former Soviet Union.” July 2011
Aliyah isn’t fueled by ideology. It’s all about the economy.
By Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz
December 30, 2013
No French Exodus – The most striking statistic in the official immigration figures for 2013 published by the Ministry for Immigration Absorption and the Jewish Agency Sunday is the 63 percent jump in immigrants from France. But a bit of proportion is still in order. 3,120 French Jews immigrated to Israel this year, that’s barely half a percent of the estimated 600 thousand Jews living in France. So hardly the much heralded “French Exodus” quite yet.
Follow the money – While the worst attack against Jews in Europe for years, the Toulouse killings last year, and other anti-Jewish incidents probably played a factor in encouraging some French Jews to emigrate, Aliya experts admit that the main reason is financial. The faltering French economy and higher taxes is causing many French citizens to go abroad. Some of them have the option of Zion with its special tax laws for Olim.
No ideological immigration – More immigrants came from the Former Soviet Union (7,520) than any other country or region. Like the French, “Russian” immigrants are more interested in improving their financial situation than Zionism. Add the Russians and the French to the 1,360 Falashmura arriving this year from Ethiopia, and it’s quite clear that at least two-thirds of new immigrants came for economic reasons, not ideology. (This was always the case with most Olim, despite the hype).
Jews happy where they are – Jewish Agency Chairman Nathan Sharansky said that he number of new immigrants (19,200) attests to the “centrality” of Israel for the Jews of the world. Perhaps, but the number constitutes little more than a quarter of a percent of the Jews living outside Israel. Israel may be central to them but nearly all of Diaspora Jews seem quite comfortable where they are.
Not so sure about these ones – Ethiopian Jews arrive in Israel January 17, 2011. Some Ethiopian immigrants claim they were forced to take injections of birth control or risk being denied entry into Israel. Photo by Ronen Zvulun / Reuters
Nefesh not boosting numbers – For the last five years, the Jewish Agency has basically contracted its aliyah business in North America and Britain to the private organization Nefesh b’Nefesh. Nefesh b’Nefesh has streamlined the process and made it more user-friendly but this year emigration from the U.S. was down 13 percent and from the U.K. down 27 percent. The numbers don’t lie: Nefesh has not succeeded in attracting Anglo olim in their droves. And for the same reason larger numbers arrive from the Former Soviet Union and France – the American and British economies are still better than Israel’s. Love of Israel is still high in these countries but aliyah has always been low and will remain so as long as life there is more comfortable.
A staunch proponent of aliyah, he had little understanding of what motivated Jews around the world.
By Anshel Pfeffer, Ha’aretz
January 17, 2014
Ariel Sharon’s personal life and public career were dominated by the jobs he failed to get and positions denied him, just as much as by the heights he succeeded in scaling. Promotion to general stymied for years due to his propensity to disobey orders and lie to his superiors, the repeated refusal to appoint him army chief of staff and the humiliating way in which he was banished from his cherished defense ministry fueled his undying ambition and were all mentioned in countless obituaries this week. Reading David Landau’s fascinating new biography of Sharon, I discovered yet another, long forgotten disappointment from exactly 30 years ago.
In January 1984, the disgraced minister without a portfolio, languishing in obscurity after the disaster of the first Lebanon War and Sabra and Chatila massacres had seemingly tainted him forever, sought a new challenge. Without relinquishing his ministerial title of course, he would become the head of the Jewish Agency’s aliyah department, at the time a powerful sinecure which had just fallen vacant, and devote himself to drawing multitudes of Jews to the Promised Land. With the Jewish Agency today in tatters and the responsibilities of the once central aliyah department scattered and subcontracted, it’s almost inconceivable that politicians who at the time still harbored prime ministerial aspirations could have ever coveted the job, but Sharon did. Whether he was seriously interested in gathering the exiles or simply desired to get on the Diaspora gravy train and line up heavy donors for his next political campaign is another matter; in any case, he didn’t get the job. The Labor Party still held considerable sway over the Agency in those days and many Jewish-American grandees were horrified by the idea of the man widely seen then as Israel’s principle warmonger muscling in on their territory. His appointment was voted down. But it’s still intriguing to speculate what might have happened had Sharon been allowed to get his hands on the aliyah apparatus.
This same photo pops up with different posts and articles to illustrate people making aliyah from Turkey, Hungary, Russia, N. America, France and the UK.
Admirers of the now late leader, and right now there are many, some true believers, others begrudging, would probably say that Arik the bulldozer would have brought to the task the same energies put into his military campaigns, settlement drives in the territories from 1977 on and new housing projects throughout the country from 1990-1992 when he served as housing and construction minister. If only he had got the job — millions of Jews, realizing the futility of their lives among the goyim, would have flocked to Zion. The Diaspora would have become an anachronism compared with the only place to be, the dynamic homeland. Well, they would be wrong. Sharon believed it was in his power but he couldn’t have done that – no Israeli can.
The warrior-farmer Sharon, despite his love of classical music, was probably the least cosmopolitan of all Israel’s prime ministers. He wasn’t the first “sabra” prime minister of course. Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, who all preceded him, were born here, but they all had wider, more worldly perspectives. Rabin’s education was acquired during his five years as ambassador in Washington, where he learned not only the political power structure, but also that of the Jewish community. Netanyahu’s entire adolesence and much of his twenties and thirties were spent in the United States, while Barak may have spent only a relatively short time at Stanford but always strived to be a man of the world. Sharon’s only prolonged absence from Israel was a year’s study at the Royal Military Academy in Camberley, Surrey in the late 1950s. It doesn’t seem to have shaped him in any fundamental way or given him an understanding of Jewish realities outside Israel.
The deeply secular Sharon would often say that he was “first of all Jewish” before being Israeli, and though this was often said to impress Haredi political partners, he probably meant it. His deep suspicion of “the Arabs,” which hadn’t diminished even after he began meeting Arab leaders once he became prime minister and after he had decided on unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, along with his firm belief that Jewish demographics along with military might were the key to Israel’s survival, made him a staunch proponent of aliyah. But he had little understanding of what motivated Jews around the world.
Two episodes from his time of prime minister demonstrate this. One was in 2004 when, following a rash of anti-Semitic incidents in France, he caused a diplomatic incident with the French government and offended many French Jews in a speech in which he said “I call upon our brothers in France. Move to Israel as soon as possible. Jewish life can be safe only here.” Sharon’s call went unheeded. Immigration from France is of course up in recent years, and jumped last year, largely due to the deepening economic malaise there, but it has hardly been the great exodus he envisaged.
Be careful of what you wish for: Arik Sharon, like all Ministers for Aliyah and immigrant absorption, wanted all Jews to immigrate to Israel – though what they mainly got was pork-eating, Sabbath-ignoring, unbelieving Russians who just wanted a better life. Photo by Pavel Wohlberg.
Sharon saw Diaspora Jews as little more than a demographic reserve for Israel and had little if any interest in Jewish life around the world. This attitude was made clear in another speech in 2002 in which he said “we will bring a million olim over the next 10 years.” This boastful target had little to base itself upon. By then, almost a million “Russian” Jews had arrived in Israel but nearly the same number had emigrated from the disintegrated Former Soviet Union to North America, Germany and other countries. The overwhelming majority of Jews outside Israel were living in wealthy democratic countries – what was Sharon offering them? Why did he expect them to arrive?
Less than a quarter of Sharon’s target of a million Jewish immigrants in a decade arrived (and at least 100,000 veteran Israelis left) proving once again that whatever the level of Zionism and support of Israel among the Jews of the world, emigration is nearly always motivated by non-ideological factors. Sharon took them for granted. He believed that all it would take was a concerted campaign and they would come, but they haven’t. This cynical attitude toward the Diaspora is not different than that held by many Israelis, but Sharon took it to an extreme, as he did with most of his beliefs throughout his entire career.
The Education Ministry has already launched a program comparing Sharon to Moses but he was no leader of the entire Jewish people. A clear-eyed perspective on Sharon’s so-called legacy must be capable of taking into account his achievements as a commander spearheading the crucial crossing of the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War and as the only politician who effectively stood up to the religious right-wing, dismantling the Gaza and northern Samaria settlements, along with the ruthlessness of many of his other military endeavors, culminating in the Lebanese tragedy, the way he single-handedly tried to prevent any chance for a peace agreement by building a hundred settlements and his lack of true understanding or empathy for Jews choosing to live outside Israel.
An Israel capable of making peace with its neighbors, claiming its place within the democratic Western world and maintaining a healthy relationship with the communities of the Jewish Diaspora cannot be Sharon’s Israel.
Total Immigration to Israel, by Selected Countries per Year
(1948 – Present)
(You can also download this as an Excel file here)
° FSU = Former Soviet Union
*This report is based on data from the CBS.
**Since 1995 data includes Asian Republics of the FSU.
***Data does not include Returning minors, Immigrant citizens, Returning citizens and Minor citizens handled by Aliyah Shlichim
Sources: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics
This table shows the origin of three million immigrants to Israel from 1948 to 2012. By far the largest number – almost half – are from the USSR and Former Soviet Union, depositing a significant number of Christians in the Jewish state. The original title for this table was Total Immigration by Country by Year – excluding most European countries and all North African and Middle Eastern countries (tables below fill in the large gaps). In this table, the year with most immigration was 1949, with the largest numbers coming from the USSSR, France and the UK. The lowest years for immigration were 1985 and 1986. Immigration from the USA and Canada combined is just 11% of immigration from the USSR/FSU.
1950, Mizrahi Jews in the Ma’abarot transit camp.
The Mass Migration of the 1950s
By Jonathan Kaplan, Jewish Agency for Israel
The years between 1948 and 1951 witnessed the largest migration ever to reach the shores of modern Israel. This influx began at a time when the state was in the throes of its greatest struggle for survival, the War of Independence, and continued throughout a period troubled by both security concerns and economic hardship. In the mid-1950s, a second wave arrived in Israel. The immigrants of the country’s first decade radically altered the demographic landscape of Israeli society as well as the balance between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. Many of today’s social issues are rooted in this mass migration: Israel’s rapid economic growth, social stratification and the formation of new political frameworks and elites.
Some 688,000 immigrants came to Israel during the country’s first 3 and a half years at an average of close to 200,000 a year. As approximately 650,000 Jews lived in Israel at the time of the establishment of the state, this meant in effect a doubling of the Jewish population, even in light of the fact that some 10% of the new immigrants left the country during the next few years. Although immigration declined rapidly during the early 1950s, another 166,000 arrived in the middle of the decade.
The first immigrants to reach the new state were survivors of the Holocaust, some from Displaced Persons Camps in Germany, Austria and Italy, and others from British Detention Camps in Cyprus. The remnants of certain communities were transferred virtually in their entirety, for example Bulgarian and Yugoslav Jewry. Large sections of other communities such as those from Poland and Rumania came to Israel during the first years.
After the initial influx of European Jews, the percentage of Jews from Moslem countries in Asia and Africa increased considerably (1948 – 14.4%, 1949 – 47.3%, 1950 – 49.6%, 1951 – 71.0%). During 1950 and 1951, special operations were undertaken to bring over Jewish communities perceived to be in serious danger: the Jews of Yemen and Aden (Operation Magic Carpet) and the Jewish community in Iraq (Operation Ezra and Nehemia). During the same period, the vast majority of Libyan Jewry came to the country. Considerable numbers of Jews immigrated from Turkey and Iran as well as from other North African countries (Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria).
Immigration to Israel (1948-1951) By Major Countries of Origin:
Country Number in order of size -thousands)
Yemen and Aden 48.3
Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria 45.4
Germany, Austria 10.8
[Note: In the early years, the main immigration was from Arab/Muslim countries – not the Europeans which Ben Gurion et al were expecting.]
Source: Moshe Sicron, “The Mass Aliyah – Its Dimensions, Characteristics and Influences on the Structure of the Israeli Population,” in Mordechai Naor, ed., Olim and Ma’abarot 1948-1952 (Jerusalem: 1986): 34 (Hebrew).
During the period between 1955 and 1957, most (62%) immigrants came from North African countries.
There were considerable differences between the immigrants from European countries and those from Asia and Africa. The survivor population was usually older and contained fewer children. On the other hand, the Jews from developing countries in Asia and Africa tended to have a large number of children but a smaller elderly population. The European immigrants were generally better educated. Neither group however, resembled the profile of pre-state immigration: a significantly lower percentage of the post-1948 immigrants were in the primary wage earning group (only 50.4% in the 15-45 age group as compared to 66.8% in earlier immigration waves) and consequently less could participate in the work force of the new state. The newer immigrants had less education: 16% of those aged 15 and above had completed secondary education as compared to 34% among the earlier settlers. Women, especially among the immigrants from Asia and Africa, tended less to work outside the home. The professions of the new arrivals were also different than those of their predecessors: few had engaged in agriculture and most had been either small craftsmen (tailors, cobblers, carpenters, smiths) or traders and peddlers.
Effects on the Israeli Population:
First and foremost, the mass migration led to a steep rise in the Israeli Jewish population. Not only was the population doubled within a short period of time, but the high fertility rate of many of the newcomers led to continued population increase in the years ahead. This growth was significant both with regard to the ratio between Jews and non-Jews in Israel and to the demographic role of Israel in the Jewish world. Secondly, due to the large percentage of immigrants from Asia and Africa and to their higher fertility rate, the mass migration led to a change in the ethnic composition of Israeli society. An indication of this trend can be seen in the rise of the proportion of foreign-born Israelis who were born in Asia and Africa. In November 1948 this proportion stood at 15.1%, but by the end of 1951 it had risen to 36.9%. Thirdly, the new state now had to deal with a considerable population that to a large extent lacked agricultural or modern professional skills, or the same degree of modern education as the veteran population. Moreover, due to an under-representation of that age group that could best adapt vocationally to new social and economic conditions, it was difficult to quickly integrate the new population. One of the most important social issues in Israel resulted from the difficulties involved in absorbing the new immigrants.
Immigration to Israel by continent
Unknown America & Europe Africa Asia Total