Jewish Agency Chairman Predicts Coronavirus Will Drive Dramatic Increase in Immigrants to Israel

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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FILE PHOTO: Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog addresses the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, August 3, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog addresses the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, August 3, 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog predicted on Monday that a-quarter-of-a-million immigrants would arrive in Israel over the next three-to-five years because of the coronavirus pandemic, most of them young and educated.

If Herzog’s prediction comes true, it would represent a dramatic increase in aliyah compared with recent years, when the annual number of immigrants arriving in the country has hovered at around 30,000.

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“This is a historic challenge that we must exploit, and the government needs to understand the opportunity and prepare a national program for absorbing this immigration wave,” Herzog told the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. He noted that the number of individuals abroad opening aliyah files had increased exponentially in recent months. Opening an aliyah file is required of any individual seeking to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

“Our call center has been inundated,” he said, noting that in recent months the number of calls from people considering aliyah from English-speaking countries had increased by 50 percent.

Jewish new immigrants from Ukraine, who are making aliyah, walk down the stairs as their airplane lands at Ben Gurion International airport on December 22, 2014.Credit: GIL COHEN-MAGEN / ADL / AFP

It was not clear whether Herzog’s prediction of a massive increase in aliyah in the coming years was based on anything beyond these calls and the number of aliyah files opened. Indeed, people often open aliyah files but do not follow through by moving to Israel.

Herzog noted in his remarks to the Knesset committee that Israel was looking increasingly desirable to Jews abroad because of its widely perceived success in combating the pandemic. That success has been short-lived, however, as evidence mounts in recent weeks that Israel may have emerged from lockdown too early and is now losing control of the virus. In the past few days, the government started imposing restrictions once again in response to a dramatic increase in the number of Israelis testing positive for the virus.

Economic concerns were also expected to drive up aliyah numbers in the coming years, Herzog said. In Israel, however, the economy is also in a sorry state, with unemployment up to nearly 20 percent since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

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