French Immigration to Israel Takes Downturn, Despite Expectations

But dramatic rise posted in new arrivals from Ukraine and Russia.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Jewish immigrants from Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport, December 22, 2014.
Jewish immigrants from Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport, December 22, 2014. Credit: AFP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Jewish immigration from France, which reached an all-time high in the past two years, is showing signs of slowing down.

According to internal figures of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, in the first five months of the year, 1,710 French Jews immigrated to Israel – a drop of 19 percent compared with the same period last year.

Despite this downturn, Minister of Immigrant Absorption Ze’ev Elkin told leaders of the French community in Israel on Wednesday that he expected the figures to recover, with a major wave of immigrants set to arrive this summer.

In 2014, a record number of 7,086 French Jews moved to Israel, making France the number one provider of immigrants to the country that year. According to earlier forecasts, immigration from France was expected to more than double this year to 15,000. But that does not seem likely now, given the current pace.

Speaking with Haaretz, Elkin said he anticipated that immigration from France this year would be higher than last year, but not necessarily double the number.

He said the figures for the first five months of the year only took into account the number of French Jews who had arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport as immigrants, but not many others who had come in on tourist visas and change their status to immigrants while in the country. “The drop is not as dramatic as it looks,” he said.

Elkin told leaders of the local French community that he was determined to move ahead with special incentives for French Jews considering immigration to Israel, which had been approved by the previous government.

In the past two years, immigration from France has outpaced that from the United States, even though the American Jewish community is many times larger. A combination of rising anti-Semitism and tough economic times are seen as the major factors behind the recent spike in immigration from France, which is home to roughly 500,000 Jews.

While immigration from France was down in January-May, a sharp rise was registered in the number of Jews leaving both Russia and Ukraine for Israel during this period. This trend, already evident last year, has been attributed to mounting political instability in these countries. The Immigrant Absorption Ministry figures show that 2,938 Ukrainian Jews arrived in Israel during this period – up 82 percent from the same period last year. Another 2,435 came from Russia, an increase of 51 percent.

Although the absolute numbers are small, immigration from Italy was also up dramatically in the first five months of the year. During this period, 143 Italians Jews moved to Israel, 46 percent more than in the corresponding period last year.

Immigration from both the United States and Canada was down slightly.

All told, 10,023 Jews immigrated to Israel in the first five months of the year – 20 percent more than in January-May 2014.

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