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Number of Russians Moving to Israel Sees Dramatic Rise, American Aliyah Figures Drop

Total immigration to Israel shows modest increase of 5 percent over the past 12 months, according to Jewish Agency estimates, although numbers making aliyah from France slumped 25 percent

North American immigrants arriving at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv, at the start of 2018.
Ben Kalmar

Despite rising anti-Semitism in the United States, the number of Jews who moved to Israel from North America dropped in 2018, according to preliminary estimates compiled by the Jewish Agency.

However, total immigration to Israel showed a modest increase of 5 percent in 2018, with 29,600 Jews from around the world moving to the country. The biggest factor behind the increase was a significant rise in the number of immigrants moving from Russia.

The preliminary number of Jews making aliyah from North America – the vast majority from the United States – totaled 3,250 in 2018, down 10 percent on the previous year, according to Agency estimates.  

However, Israel is definitely not the prime destination for those American Jews who are leaving the United States, the Agency figures show.

Anti-Semitism has also been on the rise in Western Europe, yet Agency estimates suggest that the number of Jews immigrating to Israel from France dropped 25 percent in 2018, to total 2,600.

The estimates, obtained by Haaretz, were compiled by the Agency on the basis of figures available up until the second half of December. They do not include those Israelis returning to the country after extended stays abroad, who are also entitled to many benefits conferred on immigrants. 

According to the estimates, 10,500 immigrants from Russia will have arrived in the country by the end of 2018 – representing an increase of 45 percent from the previous year and accounting for more than one-third of the total number of immigrants.

By contrast, the number of immigrants from Ukraine – which in recent years had rivaled Russia as the single largest supplier of immigrants to Israel – was down 9 percent to total 6,500.

Most of the immigrants coming to Israel from Russia and Ukraine in recent years do not qualify as Jewish under religious law, even if they are eligible for citizenship. To qualify for citizenship under the Law of Return, an individual must have at least one Jewish grandparent, a Jewish spouse or have undergone a conversion in a recognized Jewish community (it does not have to be an Orthodox conversion). To qualify as a Jew under religious law, an individual must have been born to a Jewish mother or have undergone an Orthodox conversion by rabbis recognized by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

According to recent reports, many British Jews are considering leaving their country because of anti-Semitism. If so, Israel does not as yet appear to be their preferred destination. The Agency figures show that the number of Jews moving from the United Kingdom to Israel in 2018 was down 9 percent, to total 500.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett to spearhead a new campaign to lure French Jews to Israel.  Between 2013 and 2015, Israel experienced a large wave of immigration from France. The exodus was sparked both by a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and a depressed local economy. Since 2015, however, when close to 8,000 French Jews moved to Israel, the numbers have dropped steadily.

Many French Jews who moved to Israel during the peak years have since returned to France. Difficulties with the Hebrew language and with finding work commensurate with their skills have been cited as the key obstacles to their successful integration into Israeli society.

The number of Jews living in France is estimated at 470,000, making it the largest Jewish community in Europe.