Hundreds of Jews Secretly Left Muslim Countries for Israel in Recent Years, Government Data Reveals

A table provided by Israel's Interior Ministry shows that thousands of Jews secretly left countries hostile to Israel

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Jewish schoolgirls in Tehran, May 3, 2011.
Jewish schoolgirls in Tehran, May 3, 2011.Credit: AP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Nearly 2,500 Jews have secretly left countries hostile to Israel in recent years, almost all of them with Muslim majorities, information released this week by the Interior Ministry shows.

These include states like Morocco and Tunisia - but also Cuba. Turkey is the only one that has diplomatic relations with Israel, though these have deteriorated dramatically in recent years.

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The figures were included in a table prepared by the Interior Ministry's Population Registry. It broke down the number of immigrants arriving in Israel since 2012 eligible to make aliyah: those who are recognized as Jewish by the state and those who are not. The figures were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Hiddush, an organization that advocates for religious freedom in Israel.

The Israeli government does not typically publish figures on aliyah from countries with which it has no diplomatic ties out of concern for the wellbeing of local Jewish communities. Immigration from these countries is generally overseen by the Jewish Agency.

To qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return, which governs eligibility for aliyah, an individual must have either been born to a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism in a recognized Jewish community. The spouses, children and grandchildren of Jews are also allowed to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, even if they do not fit the Interior Ministry’s definition of Jewish. These individuals belong to a category designated as “other” or “no religion” by the Population Registry and Central Bureau of Statistics.

Immigration from Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Cuba and Turkey accounted for just over 1 percent of total immigration during the eight-year period covered in the data. The overwhelming majority of immigrants from these countries qualified as Jewish under the Law of Return, according the figures. The only exception were immigrants from Cuba, nearly 60 percent of whom did not fit the definition.

Despite having no diplomatic relations with Cuba, young Cubans regularly participate in free Birthright trips to Israel, often joining groups from Canada, as they cannot fly through the United States. To participate in a Birthright trip, an individual must be eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return.