Enhancing the Prospects of Western Aliyah

Israel needs to draw up a master plan for attracting Western Aliyah (immigration) to Israel. The Israeli state needs to consider what it is that is less attractive with living in Israel as compared to countries in the Diaspora and Israel needs to plan to redesign itself into becoming supremely attractive for Western Jewish immigrants. Israel needs to leave the mindset that Western Jews would immigrate to Israel merely because of being Jewish, but rather seek to make Israel attractive to live in for Western Jews on account of individual membership in a myriad of societal groups relating to age, gender, sexuality, profession, disability etc. The challenge is to make Israel the most attractive country to live in for a vast number of different segments of Western Jewry.

Studying in Israel

Israel should make ulpanim (Israeli schools for learning Hebrew) free of charge for anyone eligible for immigration to Israel under the Law of Return and furthermore offer free lodging and free food to ulpanistim (students of ulpanim). This will create an intermediary track between tourism and Aliyah where Diaspora Jews can explore the option of moving to Israel permanently and be well prepared in terms of proficiency in the Hebrew language. 

Studying at Israeli institutions of higher education should be made free of charge for anyone eligible for Aliyah under the Law of Return and even so before they make Aliyah. Deciding on Aliyah without knowing fluent Hebrew is too large a step for most Western Jews considering the uncertain professional prospects in Israel. Tuition for Israeli universities and colleges should be abolished for Israeli citizens as well.

Many Israeli institutions of higher education already offer English-language courses on a variety of subjects and this will no doubt be expanded if tuition-free studies are offered to Diaspora Jewish students. There should be focus on persuading young Western Jews to come to Israel and study after high school. Many young US Jews will no doubt find it attractive to study at university without having to pay tuition. Birthright Israel should be redesigned to attract young Diaspora Jews to study in Israel. 

The Israeli Na’aleh program which offers high school studies for free in Israel, including health insurance and full room & board for Diaspora teenagers needs to be better marketed in the Diaspora. Most Diaspora Jews have never heard of the Na’aleh program and so a much better job can be done in this regard.

Social Security

European Jews are used to robust social security and so having a much less generous welfare state in Israel is a turn-off for many European Jews. Although the Western Diaspora is generally affluent and highly educated, there are nevertheless many poor Western Jews and so Israel needs to focus on attracting poor Jews to immigrate to Israel by offering special programs tailored for attracting poor Jews to immigrate to Israel. 

At least 20% of Diaspora Jews have some kind of disability and so reinforcing the Israeli welfare state will serve to make Israel much more attractive for Jews with disabilities. I write this as a European disabled Jew who would like to live in Israel but cannot do so because welfare benefits are much less generous in Israel and so were I to move to Israel would this impose immense disadvantages in comparison with my current life in Sweden. I have high functioning autism, severe ADHD and schizoaffective syndrome, which means that I cannot work gainfully and I currently live in a staffed collective for people with similar disabilities and this is funded by the local municipality. I would face immense difficulties and would have to wait for months to receive welfare benefits and would find it very difficult to find somewhere to live if I were to move back to Israel. (I already made Aliyah in 1995 but failed and returned to Sweden.) From being guaranteed a minimum standard in Sweden would I be thrown into poverty in Israel.

The Israeli government needs to prepare a comprehensive plan for making Israel the most attractive country in the world for disabled people. If Israel actively wants to attract Diaspora Jews with disabilities who comprise some 20% of the total population of Diaspora Jewry, Israel needs to become disability friendly in every aspect and dimension. Israeli disabled people need to be integrated into the workforce and those who cannot work must be guaranteed a decent minimum standard of living. By turning Israel into an international model and paradise for people with disabilities can Israel attract hundreds of thousands of Diaspora Jews.

Professions

The Western Diaspora is highly educated and thus needs Israel to focus on how it can make Israel more attractive for graduates of institutions of higher education. Israel cannot compete with salaries in the United States but Israeli salaries are competitive as regards most other countries where the Western Diaspora lives. Encouraging young Diaspora Jews to study in Israel and thus move to Israel already before formally immigrating will remove a huge disincentive for American Aliyah since currently salaries are much higher in the United States than in Israel. Israel needs to investigate profession by profession in order to determine how Israel can be made more attractive to Western Jewry and Israel needs to undertake systematic measures to make Israel attractive for Diaspora Jewish professionals.

LGBTQI

Tel Aviv has gained a reputation as the LGBTQI capital of the Middle East but much remains to be done in advancing LGBTQI rights in Israel. There needs to be full emancipation of LGBTQI people in Israel in order to make Israel the world leader in LGBTQI rights. Living in Tel Aviv is very expensive (it is the world’s most expensive city) and so many Jewish LGBTQI people cannot afford to live there. The challenge therefore is to make the entire Israel a global center for the project of LGBTQI emancipation, where throughout Israel LGBTQI people will live securely and openly. Some 20% of young adult Americans in their early twenties identify as LGBTQI and the proportion may be even higher in the Jewish community with its progressive leanings. Israeli LGBTQI emancipation is not merely a rights issue but a Zionist issue and an Aliyah issue as making Israel a leader in LGBTQI emancipation could help attract vast numbers of Diaspora Jews to Israel.

Non-Orthodox Denominations

The question of recognition of non-Orthodox denominations of Rabbinic Judaism has long undermined the relationship between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Rabbinic Jewry in making what was once Israel’s best friends in America increasingly less friendly towards Israel. While most singles immigrating from North America are non-Orthodox are over two-thirds of North American families immigrating to Israel Orthodox. This suggest that Israel’s official discrimination against the non-Orthodox denominations is a significant turn-off for the vast majority of American Jews who are non-Orthodox. As with LGBTQI emancipation is this not only a matter of rights but a Zionist issue of promoting Aliyah. 

Veganism

Veganism is growing worldwide and considering the progressive leanings and generally higher levels of education of American Jews is it likely that the ratio of vegans is significantly higher among American Jews than in the general population. The Israeli government needs to make a plan for phasing out animal-derived products in Israel. This should be commenced already now. One example: the IDF offers vegan boots to vegan soldiers which are just as good as the animal-derived ones so why not give vegan boots to all soldiers? The existence of vegan products realistically mimicking animal products and the emerging cellular agriculture industry where Israel is the world leader makes this both feasible and realistic. The Israeli government needs to become the world leader in veganization in transforming Israel into a vegan paradise that will make it attractive for Jewish vegans in the Diaspora to move to Israel. If Israel becomes the first vegan nation then that will make it extremely attractive for hundreds of thousands of Jewish vegans abroad to move to Israel.

Gender equality

Israel needs to emulate the example of Scandinavian countries and become a world leader in gender equality. This will make it attractive for Western Jewish women to move to Israel in ensuring that they have more opportunities in Israel than in the Diaspora. Israel can learn from the vast experience of Scandinavian countries in this regard in order to become the world leader in this field. Ensuring equality in opportunity for women will be good for Israel’s economy since more women need to be integrated in e.g. the high tech sector, however this is first and foremost a Zionist Aliyah issue since Israel needs to become supremely attractive as the country of opportunity for Jewish women around the world.

Economic Immigration

Israel has already reached the level of GDP per capita of most wealthy industrialized countries, yet the United States is far ahead and most of the Western Diaspora Jews live in the United States. However with the continuation of the rapid economic growth in the past decade (5% per annum) as mainly fueled by Israel’s booming high tech sector may Israel catch up within two decades. In a future where salaries in Israel significantly surpass those of countries of the Diaspora will there be economically motivated mass Aliyah to Israel. This will happen first in other countries than the United States and only later in the United States once salaries in Israel are significantly higher than those in the United States. Such economically motivated Western Aliyah will include vast numbers of persons who are ethnically Jewish but not matrilineally Jewish. Israel must be ready for this and hence it is vital that liberalized Orthodox conversions are readily available already during the early absorption process as was the case until the 1980s. The Western Diaspora is increasingly heavily intermarried and like the post-Soviet Aliyah will there therefore no doubt be a substantial proportion who are not recognized as halakhically Jewish.  

Eliminating Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy in Israel has been significantly reduced in recent decades but Israel still lags behind many Western countries in this respect. When Western immigrants encounter bureaucratic obstacles to a degree that they are not accustomed to, then this sends a negative signal leading immigrants not to recommend others to move to Israel. Elimination of bureaucracy is one significant aspect where Israel has to catch up with the countries of the Diaspora in making itself attractive for Western mass Aliyah.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization

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