Most immigrants from the former Soviet Union who leave Israel are those who are not recognized by the state as Jewish, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute has found.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Dr. Dov Maimon said russian-speakers leaving the country were doing so out of lack of identity with the Jewish state.
“This is the main reason that they leave the country — even more than financial difficulties,” he said during a discussion of Jewish identity in the state of Israel.
The government has been working in recent years to reverse the trend of emigration from Israel, and according to Jewish Agency statistics, in 2011 there were more immigrants to Israel from the US than Israeli emigrants heading for the States. Fewer than 3,850 Israelis migrated to the US last year, the lowest number since 2003.
In 2006, the most recent year for which emigration statistics exist from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 7,472 new immigrants arrived from the former Soviet Union, while 7,400 emigrated from Israel, mostly to Canada, the US, and Europe.
In Maimon’s report to the Knesset committee, he also claimed that emigrants from Russian-speaking countries are usually those whose Jewish identity is weak, and once they leave Israel their Jewish identification almost completely disappears.
Adam Tasma of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry explained that the ministry is trying to constantly strengthen the Jewish identity of the immigrant population, since that is what will ensure a successful absorption into Israel society. “We carry out activities in order to preserve ties with Israel and Judaism, and these things are what create the ultimate connection with Israel.”
MK Daniel Ben Simon (Labor) disagreed, arguing that Jewish identity is not the problem, but rather that some immigrants to the country are unable to really forge a bond with Israel. “We have failed to instill the Israeli experience in everyone. Therefore, many immigrants feel marginalized.”
A 2008 survey by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center found that nearly 60 percent of Israelis had inquired about or applied for citizenship and/or a passport from a foreign country.
Committee member MK Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home) said: “There is no doubt that the driving force that beats within the heart of the Jewish people is that which brings people to the land of Israel. The problem is that this driving force stops working, and perhaps that is the reason for emigration from the country.”
The government is looking for solutions in order to stop the wave of emigration. Government statistics estimate that between 800,000 and 1 million Israelis live abroad. The Immigrant Absorption Ministry launched a campaign in 2010 promising benefits to Israelis who return to Israel, and the Finance Ministry is also trying to create incentives that would encourage Israeli expats to return.