Up to 90,000 New Immigrants to Move to Israel in Next 18 Months, Aliyah Minister Predicts

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Pnina Tamano-Shata addressing the Knesset after being sworn in as immigrant absorption minister, May 17, 2020.
Pnina Tamano-Shata addressing the Knesset after being sworn in as immigrant absorption minister, May 17, 2020.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom/Knesset Spokesman's Office

Israel’s new immigrant absorption minister, Pnina Tamano-Shata, told a Knesset committee on Wednesday that she expects 90,000 immigrants to come to Israel in the next year and a half.

It was not clear on what her forecast was based, considering that aliyah has slowed to a trickle this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Jewish Agency estimates, 45,000 immigrants are expected to come to Israel in 2021, while 2020 will likely see a significant downturn based on trends in the first part of the year.

According to figures presented by Tamano-Shata at the meeting, 7,221 new immigrants arrived in Israel in the first five months of 2020. Summer is usually the peak season for immigration, but that is unlikely to be the case this year due to the global health crisis, which has created many bureaucratic and other obstacles.

The Jewish Agency is the organization responsible for opening aliyah files and determining eligibility for aliyah under the Law of Return. Any individual with at least one Jewish grandparent, who is the spouse of a Jew or a convert is legally eligible to immigrate to Israel.

Tamano-Shata issued the aliyah forecast in her first public remarks since assuming her ministerial position last month. She is the first Ethiopian-born woman to serve as a member of the Israeli government.

She said one of her top priorities would be bringing to Israel the remaining members of the Falashmura community – descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity. “This needs to be a top national priority, because the injustices these people have suffered scream to the heavens,” Tamano-Shata said.

A group of Falashmura immigrants at Ben Gurion Airport after arriving from Ethiopia, February 25, 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Formerly a member of Yesh Atid, she broke ranks with the party following its split with Kahol Lavan in April and joined Benny Gantz’s party instead. While Yesh Atid is in the opposition, Kahol Lavan is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

“As someone who immigrated to Israel at age 3, I can tell you that this is one of the most important ministries in Israel. And even if it sometimes seems to the average Israeli that aliyah has ended, that’s not the case,” Tamano-Shata said.

She noted that more than 35,000 immigrants arrived in Israel in 2019 – a record high for the past decade. “Not only is this trend not going to stop, but we will increase it, multiply it and prepare ourselves in the best possible way so that Israel is always open to the Jewish people,” she said.

Tamano-Shata said her ministry was working on a five-year plan for aliyah promotion.

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