In Lieu of Policy, Throwing Money at the Problem

April 27, 2010

Source: Jerusalem Post 


Haviv Rettig Gur writes in the Jerusalem Post: World Jewry is drifting away from Israeli society. Aliya is near zero. Even Israelis living abroad find little reason to come. What is Israel going to do about it?


For a country which enjoys perhaps the strongest and most organized Diaspora among all the world’s nation-states, Israel has a surprisingly difficult time thinking clearly about how to interact with it. The latest figures on a massive drop-off of returning Israelis in 2010 is a stark reminder of this reality. The years 2008 and 2009 saw a steep rise in returnees, from under 1,000 in 2007 to almost 11,000 in 2009 according to Absorption Ministry figures. Yet these figures also show that, based on a slow first quarter of 2010, only 3,000 will come in 2010. The spike thus corresponds exactly to the world financial downturn and to a generous benefits package offered by the government to returnees during these two years.


With aliya limping along at under 20,000 per year worldwide, and a minuscule 3,000 arriving from the five-million-strong American Jewish community (2009 saw a spike to 4,000, but again, during the worst economic recession America has seen since the 1930s), can we honestly speak of aliya as a significant phenomenon in today’s Jewish world?


One Israeli academic in every five leaves for the US, according to the research of renowned Israeli economist Dan Ben-David – that’s six times higher than the worst-affected European countries, Italy and Holland, whose academic loss to the US is less than one in 20. They do this not because they dislike Israel, but simply because the US offers higher salaries, easier advancement and better research opportunities.


Today, Israel has no consistent and deep interaction with the Diaspora – whether Jewish or Israeli – and no capacity to shape the relationship. Its schoolchildren do not learn about the millions of Jews around the world, and Diaspora schools teach relatively little about the complex, changing society in Israel. Israel does not have any serious policy planning mechanism that even asks these questions, whether in the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry or elsewhere.

Updated: May. 02, 2010