Jews Leaving Parts of Europe, but No 'Exodus' Evident, Study Shows

France, Belgium and Italy have proportionately lost the largest numbers of Jews to Israel; French aliyah down by one-third in 2016.

New immigrants from France are greeted at Ben-Gurion Airport, July 20, 2016.
Gil Cohen-Magen

Jews have been leaving several European countries for Israel at unprecedented rates in recent years, though the phenomenon has yet to reach the scope of an “exodus,” according to a report published Friday by a British-Jewish think tank.

The countries that have lost relatively large numbers of Jews to Israel, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research report said, were France, Belgium and Italy. On the other hand, it found no unusual increase in outward migration of Jews from the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden.

“When compared with examples of mass out-migration of Jews in well-documented settings with established causality – either due to persecution or rapid and menacing political developments – the scale of the current Jewish migration from France, Belgium and Italy (the countries with the highest desertion levels) to Israel is far smaller and cannot meaningfully be termed an ‘exodus,’” the report – entitled “Are Jews Leaving Europe?” – stated.

According to its author, Dr. Daniel Staetsky, it is difficult to determine how dominant a role anti-Semitism has played in the migration of Jews from France, Belgium and Italy. “The project could not uncover direct and unambiguous evidence in support of this claim,” he wrote. “However, it failed to reject the hypothesis either.”

Following several years of robust growth, immigration to Israel from France, which is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, tapered off in 2016. Although the number of Jews from Belgium and Italy has risen sharply in percentage terms in recent years, the two countries have relatively small Jewish communities, and therefore the absolute numbers are quite small.

Just over 5,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel in 2016 – down by about one-third from the previous year. The previous year saw a record number of almost 7,500 French Jews move to Israel, culminating a three-year spike in immigration from that country.

Some have blamed the downturn on the difficulties faced by French Jews in finding jobs commensurate with their skills in Israel. Others have speculated that the majority of French Jews with strong feelings toward Israel have already moved.

“It is clear that Jews in parts of Europe are genuinely concerned about their future, most likely because of anti-Semitism, but the levels of anxiety and apprehension are nowhere near those experienced during previous periods of intense stress, like the 1930s and 1940s,” said Dr. Jonathan Boyd, the executive director of JPR, in response to the findings of the report. “Drawing those types of parallels has no basis in empirical reality.”