Roughly 8,000 French Jews will have immigrated to Israel by the end of the year, a record number but still far below an initial forecast of 15,000, according to Ministry of Immigrant Absorption estimates obtained by Haaretz.
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In 2014, approximately 7,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel, more than double the number of the previous year. A weak economy and rising anti-Semitism have been key factors behind the exodus of Jews from France in recent years. The terror attack last January at a kosher supermarket in Paris had been expected to prompt a much bigger wave of immigration to Israel this year, but as the end-of-year estimates indicate, the initial forecasts were exaggerated.
For the second year in a row, France will be the biggest source of immigrants to Israel, followed by Ukraine. With an estimated Jewish population of 500,000, France is home to the third largest Jewish community in the world, after Israel and the United States.
According to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption's end-of-year estimates, the number of Jews moving to Israel from Ukraine will reach 7,000 this year, compared with 6,000 in 2014. Ongoing political unrest in Ukraine has been a key factor behind the flight of Jews from that country.
Minister of Immigrant Absorption Ze’ev Elkin estimated that the total number of immigrants moving to Israel in 2015 would be 30,000 – up from 27,000 the previous year.
“This will be a record high for the past decade,” he said. “It is a window of opportunity that should not go to waste.”
In February, a month after the attack at the HyperCacher that left four French Jews dead, the Israeli government approved a new incentive package to promote immigration from three countries in which Jews were under threat: France, Belgium and Ukraine. The 180 million shekel ($47 million) program, which included special grants to encourage immigrants to transplant their businesses to Israel, was drafted by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.
The government also approved a special program to enable immigrants from these countries to study Hebrew outside state-run Hebrew-language immersion centers known as “ulpanim.” Interested parties are now allowed to use special government-issued coupons to learn Hebrew privately, if the ulpan system does not suit them.
Immigration from Russia is expected to show a significant increase this year as well. No noteworthy changes are expected, however, in the number of Jews moving to Israel from other countries around the world.
A total of 295 immigrants from Belgium are expected to arrive in Israel by the end of 2015 according to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption end-of-year estimates – little changed from previous years.