Ex-ambassador Oren proposes paying non-Orthodox US Jews to immigrate to Israel

Now a deputy minister and MK, Michael Oren says Reform, Conservative movements have failed to prevent assimilation, wants to bring 10,000 per year to preserve their Jewishness

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Michael Oren autographs books following a Times of Israel event in Jerusalem, May 28, 2017. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Michael Oren autographs books following a Times of Israel event in Jerusalem, May 28, 2017. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Israeli lawmaker Michael Oren has reportedly put forward a proposal to pay thousands of young non-Orthodox Jews in the United States per year to immigrate to Israel, explaining that they are prone to assimilation.

“We have to reach a situation where 10,000 non-Orthodox Jews immigrate to Israel every year,” Oren told the Makor Rishon weekly in a report published Friday.

Oren, who himself made aliyah from the US and previously served as Jerusalem’s ambassador to Washington, has presented the plan to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the declared goal of preventing Jews from marrying non-Jews and having their children raised as non-Jews.

“If Israel treats its self-identification as the nation-state of the Jewish people seriously, we have a prime interest in preserving the Jewish people outside of Israel,” Oren said, adding that projects currently funded by the government such as Taglit-Birthright weren’t enough.

Asked about the focus on non-Orthodox Jews, the Kulanu party MK answered: “Because someone who makes aliyah, settles here, marries and starts a family, will most likely have Jewish kids.”

Young American Jews participate in a Birthright event in Jerusalem (illustrative photo: Dudi Vaknin/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of young American Jews participating in a Birthright event in Jerusalem. (Dudi Vaknin/Flash90)

“It’s also a worthwhile investment, since the immigrants and their kids will contribute to Israel’s economy by paying taxes and serving in the IDF,” added Oren, the deputy minister for diplomacy in the Prime Minister’s Office, who also serves as a special envoy for Netanyahu on various subjects.

He didn’t go into the specifics of his plan, but said it entailed offering “incentives” that would “cost a lot of money, but will be worth every shekel.”

“When I moved to Tel Aviv I met many young Anglo Jews who came to Israel because of the good life in Tel Aviv, not necessarily out of Zionism or Jewish identity,” he added. “Why not incentivize young Jewish professionals to make aliyah? That’s the whole idea.”

Speaking of the Reform and Conservative movements, he said that “these movements set a goal, to preserve the Jewish people, number-wise and value-wise, in light of the challenge of the modern world. Seeing published data on the pace of assimilation, one can’t say that goal has been achieved.”

Asked whether his program was realistic, Oren said: “If we brought a million Jews from the former Soviet Union, of course we’ll succeed in this too.”

He said Netanyahu was “very interested” in his proposal.

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