Immigration to Israel dipped sharply in 2016 after several years of robust growth, according to preliminary estimates compiled by the Jewish Agency.
The estimates, which are in the possession of Haaretz, indicate a drop of 12 percent in immigration this year – with the total number of new arrivals expected to reach 27,400 by the end of December.
The two countries that fueled the growth in previous years, France and Ukraine, were also the prime cause of the steep decline this year.
Jewish Agency figures show that just over 5,000 French Jews will have immigrated to Israel this year – down by about one-third from the previous year. 2015 saw a record number of 7,469 French Jews move to Israel, culminating a three-year spike in immigration from that country.
Rising anti-Semitism and an economic downturn were the chief factors behind the recent French exodus. With an estimated population of 500,000 Jews, France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe.
Marc Eisenberg, the founder of Qualita, a new organization that aims to help French immigrants overcome relocation problems, blamed the 2016 downturn on the difficulties faced by many French Jews in finding jobs commensurate with their skills in Israel.
“In many cases, they come up against obstacles because they don’t speak Hebrew, and in many other cases, the problem is that their professional certification is not recognized in Israel,” he said.
Still, Eisenberg noted, “it’s impossible to break immigration records year after year. At some point, the numbers have to start turning down.” Indeed, the estimated number of French arrivals in Israel this year is still much higher than the average recorded before the recent boom.
According to Eisenberg, an estimated 15 percent of French Jews who immigrated to Israel during the recent immigration boom have since returned to France after failing to adjust to conditions in Israel.
In a report published in September, the Jewish People Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, raised several possible explanations for the downturn in French immigration, among them the French government’s commitment to protecting the Jewish community, which has reassured many Jews who had considered leaving, and the drying up of “ideology-based aliyah” – immigration motivated by deep Zionist conviction.
Another factor that could have served as a deterrent, according to the report, was last year’s spate of knifing attacks in Israel.
Ironically, some observers believe that the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were killed and 368 injured, caused some French Jews to stay put. “For many of them, it was a sign that terrorism in France was not necessarily targeting the Jewish community,” said a senior official active in promoting French immigration, who asked not to be named.
Many French Jews who have left the country in recent years – particularly those who are less religious – have moved to Canada, the United States and Great Britain.
The number of immigrants to Israel from Ukraine is expected to reach 5,700 by the end of this year – a 20 percent drop from 2015. Geopolitical tensions with Russia were behind the initial wave of immigration to Israel, but the incentive to relocate appears to have diminished now that the tension has abated, Jewish Agency officials noted.
Another possible explanation for the downturn in immigration from Ukraine, the officials said, is that many Ukrainians are choosing to go to Germany, which recently eased restrictions on immigration from the former Soviet Union.
By contrast, Russian Jews continue to flock to Israel. According to Jewish Agency estimates, an estimated 7,900 immigrants from Russia are expected to arrive in the country by the end of the year – an increase of 17 percent over 2015. The continued rise in immigration from that country was attributed by a Jewish Agency official to a sense among Russian Jews that “things are going from bad to worse there.”
Immigration was also up sharply this year from Brazil and Turkey – at least in percentage terms. About 700 Brazilian Jews are expected to move to Israel by the end of this year – an increase of more than 50 percent compared with 2015. This outflow of Brazilian Jews has been attributed to deepening concerns over personal safety in Latin America’s largest country as well as economic difficulties.
Meanwhile, the expected doubling of Jewish immigration from Turkey this year appears connected to growing political instability in that country and fears that the Jewish community is being targeted. According to Jewish Agency estimates, more than 220 Turkish Jews are expected to have moved to Israel by the end of this year.
The number of Jews immigrating to Israel from the United States is expected to remain stable this year at just over 3,000.
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