Tel Aviv rally for immigration to Berlin fizzles out

Only a few dozen show up next to Holocaust memorial to protest high cost of living and threaten to leave for cheaper shores

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Israelis rallying for emigration to Berlin in Tel Aviv, October 2014 (Screen capture: Channel 2)
Israelis rallying for emigration to Berlin in Tel Aviv, October 2014 (Screen capture: Channel 2)

If the choice is Berlin or bust, it seems Israelis are choosing bust.

Despite days of social media hype, a Tel Aviv rally planned to protest Israel’s high costs and promote emigration to cheaper Germany drew only a few dozen people Tuesday night.

The demonstration, organized by the “Olim L’Berlin” movement, included far fewer people than the 2,300 who signed up via Facebook, and came as figures have shown that despite a healthy dose of kvetching, Israelis are not leaving in droves for Europe’s golden shores.

The rally had been planned to be the outgrowth of a movement by Israelis who have made the move to Berlin for cheaper prices, and want to convince others to do the same.

The tongue-in-cheek name of the group means “immigration to Berlin,” using the word “ascend” usually reserved for Jewish immigration specifically to Israel.

However, those who showed up to Rabin Square in the heart of the first Hebrew city Tuesday night found none of the promised information booths about moving to Germany, and only a handful of people milling about, Channel 2 News reported, noting that what little rally there was took place, somewhat ironically, next to the square’s iconic Holocaust memorial.

An organizer told the channel the rally was meant to send a message that if things don’t change, “we will up and move spontaneously and happily.”

The Olim L’Berlin group made headlines a week ago after a Facebook post comparing prices of Israeli products in Israel and Berlin went viral, drawing both positive attention and condemnation from a former treasury chief.

The group’s creator, who has remained anonymous, did not show up to the rally, Channel 2 reported.

Despite hand-wringing over Israel’s high cost of living and concerns over brain drain, figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that emigration rates in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, were the lowest since the state’s founding.

The burgeoning cost of living has been a hot topic in Israel for years, culminating in massive protests in 2011 that saw hundreds camp out in city streets throughout the country, and hundreds of thousands at protest rallies, demanding that the government take action to make food and housing more affordable. This year’s dismay over the cost of living, dubbed by Israeli media as the “Milky protests” after a popular chocolate pudding snack, has prompted speculation in news outlets that more and more Israelis were poised to give up their Zionist aspirations and head abroad in search for better fortune.

But when the emigration figures are broken down, a different story emerges. Some 15,900 Israelis left Israel for over a year in 2012, but about 13,500 Israeli expats returned — for a net loss of 2,400 citizens, compared to an average of nearly 10,000 per year between 1986 and 2008. In fact, according to border control officials, approximately a quarter of those who emigrated in 2012 and remained abroad for over a year have since returned as well.

This net loss of 2,400 Israeli citizens in 2012 does not include figures for aliya, or Jewish immigration and naturalization, which contributed another 18,000 new citizens in 2012. In other words, through migration alone, Israel gained over 15,000 citizen-residents that year.

CBS officials noted that Israel’s emigration rates are low even when compared to other OECD member countries, according to The Marker, an Israeli business journal, with an average of less then one emigrant per 1,000 citizens.

The figures also show that over 50% of Israelis who leave had immigrated to Israel, with many of those choosing to return to their country of origin.

Based on emigration rates since 1948, it is estimated that between 549,000 and 582,000 Israelis are currently living abroad, with over a quarter of them residing in the US. Nearly 25,000 Israelis live in Canada, 14,000 in Germany, 13,500 in the UK, 10,100 in Australia and 8,700 in France, The Marker reported. Other Israeli expat centers include Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador.

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