Despite concerns over a wave of emigration from Israel, which was brought on by recent public debate over a Facebook page urging young Israelis to move to Berlin, figures show that the rate of emigration has slowed dramatically, and that in 2012 the rate was the lowest since the state was established.
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Emigration is also low in comparison to member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
According to the World Bank, most Israelis emigrate to the United States or Canada. Germany, while a popular choice, is a destination that attracts far fewer Israelis than does North America.
(Relatively) alone in Berlin
How many Israelis left the country for Berlin in recent years? Hebrew University Prof. Sergio Della Pergola, one of Israel’s leading demographers, says that according to Central Bureau of Statistics figures, as of 2012, 3,065 Israelis were living in Berlin.
“This is low compared to tens of thousands of Israelis whom we are told are going around Berlin eating Milky,” Della Pergola said, a reference to recent reports that the equivalent product to Israel’s popular Milky chocolate pudding costs three times more in Israel than in Berlin.
“The ‘battle over Milky’ is more an expression of a mood, but it isn’t really backed up by facts,” Dellapergola said, adding that it was still necessary to wait and see if the figures are true for 2014 as well.
In 2012, a year after the wave of social protest broke out, the overall number of Israeli emigrants (defined as people who leave the country and remain abroad for more than a year) declined to approximately 15,900. According to border control figures from April 2014, approximately one quarter of the people who emigrated in 2012 returned or informed the authorities of an intended return date.
Figures also show that most emigrants are not Israeli-born; the majority came to live in Israel from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Only 5,700 Israeli emigrants who left in 2012 are Jews born in Israel.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics: “The current decline in the balance of emigration constitutes, among other things, a response to the economic slowdown in various countries that in the past were desirable destinations for emigrants.”
Della Pergola concurs. The economic situation in Israel has a major effect, he says – the higher the employment rate, the lower the emigration rate. “The next influential figure is the income level. Despite the gap in incomes in Israel, all in all, income has gone up,” he says.
Nevertheless, although emigration figures are down, the profile of the émigré is still a source of concern: It is estimated that most Israelis who move abroad are young university graduates, whose skills make it possible for them to make a good living there. However, such a brain drain exists in many places around the globe, including Europe.
The bad old days
Della Pergola says that according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2013 there were some 2,200 more Israelis who had the left the country for long periods than had returned; in 2012, that figure was about 2,400. Between 1986 and 2008, by contrast, there were about 10,000 more emigrants than returnees a year, and between 1983 and 1995, the margin was approximately 15,000 a year.
“During this time, the population of Israel doubled from 4 million to more than 8 million. The drop in the ratio of emigrants to the size of the population is amazing. There were similar figures in the sixties and the fifties, but then Israel’s population was much smaller and the emigration was much bigger proportionately than it is today,” Della Pergola said.
He also noted that the number of people coming from Western Europe to live in Israel is at an all-time high. For example, the largest number of immigrants to Israel from France so far, 5,800, was recorded in 1968. He believes that record will be broken before the end of this year.
The Central Bureau of Statistics counts as an emigrant any Israeli who stayed abroad for more than a year, going on the presumption that this means he or she has left permanently. Thus, the bureau’s figures do not include Israelis who live abroad but visit Israel during the year.
But according to Della Pergola, this means of counting can be misleading. Emigration today is more complex than in the past and involves more movement between the original country and the destination of emigration, he says. The Central Bureau of Statistics defines as a returning Israeli only one who remained abroad for more than a year and returned to Israel for a period of more than 90 days.
The figures even count as emigrants Israelis who have relocated abroad for a specific period for work or study, with no intention of emigrating.