Five Takeaways From the New Immigration Figures

Aliyah isn't fueled by ideology. It's all about the economy.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

No French Exodus – The most striking statistic in the official immigration figures for 2013 published by the Ministry for Immigration Absorption and the Jewish Agency Sunday is the 63 percent jump in immigrants from France. But a bit of proportion is still in order. 3,120 French Jews immigrated to Israel this year, that's barely half a percent of the estimated 600 thousand Jews living in France. So hardly the much heralded "French Exodus" quite yet.

Follow the money – While the worst attack against Jews in Europe for years, the Toulouse killings last year, and other anti-Jewish incidents probably played a factor in encouraging some French Jews to emigrate, Aliya experts admit that the main reason is financial. The faltering French economy and higher taxes is causing many French citizens to go abroad. Some of them have the option of Zion with its special tax laws for Olim.

No ideological immigration – More immigrants came from the Former Soviet Union (7,520) than any other country or region. Like the French, "Russian" immigrants are more interested in improving their financial situation than Zionism. Add the Russians and the French to the 1,360 Falashmura arriving this year from Ethiopia, and it's quite clear that at least two-thirds of new immigrants came for economic reasons, not ideology. (This was always the case with most Olim, despite the hype).

Jews happy where they are – Jewish Agency Chairman Nathan Sharansky said that he number of new immigrants (19,200) attests to the "centrality" of Israel for the Jews of the world. Perhaps, but the number constitutes little more than a quarter of a percent of the Jews living outside Israel. Israel may be central to them but nearly all of Diaspora Jews seem quite comfortable where they are.

Nefesh not boosting numbers – For the last five years, the Jewish Agency has basically contracted its aliyah business in North America and Britain to the private organization Nefesh b'Nefesh. Nefesh b'Nefesh has streamlined the process and made it more user-friendly but this year emigration from the U.S. was down 13 percent and from the U.K. down 27 percent. The numbers don't lie: Nefesh has not succeeded in attracting Anglo olim in their droves. And for the same reason larger numbers arrive from the Former Soviet Union and France – the American and British economies are still better than Israel's. Love of Israel is still high in these countries but aliyah has always been low and will remain so as long as life there is more comfortable.

A group of retirees who made aliyah shortly after landing in Israel with Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, center, co-founder of Nefesh B'Nefesh, and Effie Stenzler, right, the world chairman of JNF.Credit: Courtesy Nefesh B\'Nefesh

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