December 28, 2009
by HAVIV RETTIG GUR
Netanyahu poses with two new US olim
Photo: Sasson Tiram
Expectations for a rise in aliya due to the global financial crisis have come true, according to official figures from the past year announced by the Jewish Agency on Sunday.
Aliya rose by some 17 percent in 2009, according to the figures, from 13,860 in 2008 to some 16,200 this year.
The figures mark the first rise in aliya in a decade, and come as a welcome, if perhaps temporary, reversal of the trend in recent years.
They do not include Ethiopian aliya, since the remaining potential immigrants from Ethiopia are brought to Israel at a pace set by government decree, and so are not a measure of those who choose to make the journey.
In all, some 221,000 olim came to Israel in the past decade, a period marked by years of terror attacks and relative prosperity abroad.
The figures were announced Sunday afternoon in a joint press conference at the Jewish Agency's headquarters in Jerusalem, overseen by agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver.
According to agency and ministry figures, the largest increase came from Eastern Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union. A total of 7,120 came from this region, a rise of 21% compared to last year's 5,867. The English-speaking world contributed the next-largest group, totaling some 5,300 olim in 2009, a rise of 17% compared to 4,511 last year.
Some 2,600 came from Western and Central Europe, a small increase from 2008's 2,402. Another 1,230 came from South America, up from 1,078.
Some 60% of the new immigrants are below the age of 35.
"Every oleh who arrives in Israel strengthens it and represents a crucial strategic asset for the country," said Sharansky.
Landver connected the rise in aliya with the 20th anniversary of the major Russian-speaking aliya that began in the wake of the fall of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s.
"It is symbolic that a change for the better in aliya is taking place on the 20th anniversary of aliya from the FSU," she said.
"This comes at a time of unprecedented return of Israelis living abroad."
The rise in returning expats came with a massive program of financial benefits launched by the ministry in recent years, which includes tax benefits and employment assistance.
The aliya figures included a handful of Jews brought especially out of Arab states, where a small number remain, usually under the protection of the local governments.
Forty-seven Jews came to Israel from Yemen, where they have faced violence and discrimination by radical Muslims opposed to the government.
Another 25 came from Morocco, 13 from Tunisia, three from Lebanon and 90 in special missions from an assortment of other countries.
Some olim came from tiny communities, including four from Hong Kong, four from Mauritius, three each from Japan and China, two from Honduras and one each from Martinique, Madagascar, Kenya and Taiwan.
At the conference, Sharansky expressed the hope that the government would approve the aliya of some 8,700 Ethiopians awaiting aliya in Addis Ababa and Gondar, though their immigration is controversial since many belong to groups that had converted to Christianity generations ago. A flight of 250 Ethiopians is expected to arrive in Israel in January.