Despite Brexit and Corbyn, immigration to Israel from UK is dwindling

Only 534 Brits moved to Jewish state last year, compared to 770 in 2015; Jewish Agency official says immigration is ‘practically never motivated by one single push or pull factor’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the  Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)
Illustrative: Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

Despite the chaos surrounding the United Kingdom’s perpetually delayed withdrawal from the European Union and the various anti-Semitism scandals embroiling the main opposition Labour Party, British Jews are not streaming to Israel en masse.

In fact, immigration numbers to the Jewish state from the UK have continuously decreased in recent years, which is perhaps surprising given the instability caused by Brexit and the prospect of Labour party chair Jeremy Corbyn — a perennial critic of Israel who has been accused of anti-Semitism and of tolerating anti-Semitism in his party — replacing Theresa May as prime minister.

According to Jewish Agency figures, 534 Brits immigrated to Israel in 2018, compared to 550 who made aliyah the year before. In 2016 — the year UK citizens voted in favor of Brexit — 729 British Jews moved to Israel, down from 770 in 2015.

This year, too, emigration from Britain appears to be in decline. In the first two months of 2019, 60 UK Jews moved to Israel, compared to 77 in the same period last year.

Immigration officials say low housing prices in the UK are a key factor explaining the downturn, as families contemplating new lives in Israel are currently hesitant to sell their homes. British Jews are wary of Corbyn, but since he remains in the opposition are not panicked yet, they explain.

“Aliyah is practically never motivated by one single push factor — or pull factor, for that matter,” said Yigal Palmor, who heads the Jewish Agency’s international relations unit.

“It’s always a complex process which involves a variety of personal considerations. The concerns of a community, over anti-Semitism or otherwise, should not therefore be expected to be reflected directly in aliyah numbers. The relations between the two is more complex than that, especially since no one has any reliable data on Jewish immigration to countries other than Israel.”

At the same time, a poll released in September 2018 showed that nearly 40 percent of British Jews would “seriously consider emigrating” if Corbyn became prime minister.

The poll, published by The Jewish Chronicle, found that 38.53% of Jews would “seriously consider emigrating” if the controversial Labour leader were to be voted into 10 Downing Street.

According to most recent polls, Corbyn’s Labour would beat May’s Conservative Party in the next parliamentary elections.

Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn looks on, on the third day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool, north west England on September 25, 2018. (Oli SCARFF/AFP)

In January 2015, months before Corbyn became party leader, a poll found that only 11% of British Jews were considering leaving the UK, the Chronicle said.

In the September 2018 poll, women were more likely to consider emigrating than men — 44% compared to 32.7%. And over half (50.83%) of Jews aged 35-54 would seriously considering leaving the country if Corbyn became premier.

The poll gave weight to comments by Britain’s former chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who said in an interview that with the rise of Corbyn, Jews were currently facing an “existential threat” in Britain, and many were considering leaving the country.

“When people hear the kind of language that has been coming out of Labour, that’s been brought to the surface among Jeremy Corbyn’s earlier speeches, they cannot but feel an existential threat,” Sacks told the BBC in an interview broadcast at the time.

“Jews have been in Britain since 1656, I know of no other occasion in these 362 years when Jews – the majority of our community – are asking ‘is this country safe to bring up our children?’” he added. “Now, this is very, very worrying.”

The poll of 710 Jews was carried out by Survation from August 13 and September 4, a period when several past speeches hostile to Israel and Zionism by the Labour leader were revealed, as was the fact that he laid a wreath at a Tunisia cemetery where Palestinian terrorists involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre are buried.

Since then, Corbyn has had to deal with a torrent of anti-Semitism charges focusing on himself and other Labour members.

Earlier this month, it emerged that he admitted that evidence of anti-Semitism in his party may have been “mislaid, ignored or not used.” A leaked recording revealed Corbyn’s office has intervened in at least 101 complaints of Jew hatred within the party.

According to The Sunday Times, Corbyn made the comments during a February meeting with lawmaker Dame Margaret Hodge, a Jewish MP who has faced anti-Semitic attacks and who called Corbyn an “anti-Semite and a racist” last year, which led her to face disciplinary action, later dropped.

According to the newspaper, the comments mark the first time Corbyn has expressed any doubt over his party’s ability to deal with anti-Semitism, a year after Jennie Formby, a Corbyn ally and the party’s secretary general, was appointed to oversee the system dealing with complaints of anti-Semitism.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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