December 26, 2001
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
December 26, 2001
- Following the fall of the Argentine economy and resignation of the government last week, Israeli officials said Wednesday that they are expecting an influx of Jewish immigration from the South American country, despite an uncertain security and economic situation waiting for the newcomers here.
Some 40 Argentine youth were due to arrive in Israel Wednesday as part of a program, which brings high-school age students here to study without their families, in the hopes that they will stay and their families will follow.
They are joining another 100 high school students from Argentina, who are already studying in the two-year program.
Arieh Azoulay is chairman of the Department of Aliya (Immigration) and Absorption for the Jewish Agency, a semi-government organization that is in charge of promoting and aiding Jewish immigration to Israel.
Despite suicide bombings, crippling economic strikes and public protests over huge government budget cuts in Israel, Azoulay said that the more than 60 immigrants who arrived Tuesday from Argentina said they understood the situation and would still rather be here.
They told Azoulay that their relatives who are already here, had told them not to believe everything they saw on the television news.
"They can see that Israeli society, with all our problems, is open to receive a wave of immigration [from Argentina]," he said.
Following the collapse of the Argentine economy, the Israeli government made an emergency decision to extend a special package of benefits to new immigrants from Argentina for the next year, including a $20,000 loan/grant for the purchase of a new home here. This is in addition to the standards benefits received by new immigrants.
Personal security and economic concerns top the list of why Argentine Jews and Argentineans in general are leaving the country, Azoulay said. Anti-Semitism, on the other hand, has not been a motivating factor, he added.
"There are a few groups that are very anti-Semitic," Azoulay said, to the point of having given their backing to the bombing of the Jewish community center in 1996 and the Israeli Embassy in 1992, both in Buenos Aires.
In rioting that raged in Argentina last week, leaving 26 dead and forcing the resignation of President Fernando de la Rua's government, there were no signs of anti-Semitism, he added.
Nevertheless, Azoulay said, the community there expects to see a rise in anti-Semitism in the run up to elections scheduled to take place next spring. There are some candidates on the far right that only need an opportunity to espouse anti-Semitism, he said.
According to Azoulay, personal safety even on the streets is a concern in Argentina. The average citizen avoids taking a taxi, for fear he will be hijacked and robbed.
Economically, most of the Jewish community belong to the middle class and ran small shops or worked in the clothing industry. But many have had to close their businesses and have no money to travel to Israel.
They see the Israeli economy, where the average income is $17,000 per year as strong, in contrast to the average annual income in Argentina of $2,000.
Contributing to the economic distress of the Jewish community there, the collapse of two large Jewish banks recently wiped out all the funds used to run Jewish institutions. That caused the collapse of such institutions as the private Jewish educational system, in which some 80 percent of the Jewish children were enrolled.
There are more than 200,000 Jewish people living in Argentina but there is no indication just how many will choose to immigrate to Israel. For the last three years at least, there has been a steady stream emigration of Jews from the country to Miami, Florida, Spain and Israel.
By the end of 2001, more than 1,400 Argentine Jews will have immigrated to Israel - an increase of 30 percent over last year, said Yehuda Weinraub, director of Foreign Press Relations with the Jewish Agency. The number is expected to rise next year, he added.
"[There are some] 6,000 to 7,000 [Argentine Jews] being processed and prepared for immigration," said Weinraub. Since last week, there has been three to four times the interest in immigration in Jewish Agency offices in Argentina, he added.
According to Israeli law, Jewish people from all over the world have the right to become citizens of Israel. They are given immigration benefits, including tax breaks, financial assistance and Hebrew language training, in order to help them absorb into the society.
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