Immigration to Israel continues unabated with nearly 180,000 new arrivals since 2012, the Population and Immigration Authority says. In the last two decades, some 600,000 people made Israel their new home.
Meanwhile, emigration from Israel remains relatively low. The number of Israelis who left the country in 2017 and stayed abroad for at least a year was the lowest in the decade and continued a downward trend, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
The above numbers are mind-boggling, and some would say surprising. After all, Israel is a tiny country wedged among hostile forces in one of the world’s most unstable regions. Moreover, newcomers continue to arrive from rich countries such as France, Britain, the United States and Canada.
So what explains this phenomenon? In particular, why do Jews from Western countries see Israel as a viable option? And why are fewer Israelis leaving?
Moving to or away from Israel is a highly personal decision that may involve numerous factors and calculations. Yet a deeper look suggests that two key factors are a big part of the story.
Israel’s Economic Miracle
First, the economic and cultural gap between Israel and the West has narrowed dramatically in recent decades. Relocating from Israel to America or Europe and vice versa used to be like moving to an entirely different world. This is no longer the case.
In the 1980s, Israel’s standard of living and economic power were far below that of the average Western country. Foreign reserve currencies were low, and in 1984 inflation soared to a whopping 445 percent.
Moreover, life in Israel was very different than living abroad. There was only one television channel, and American movies were released locally after long months. The culinary scene was uninspiring and often mediocre. Major car brands like Toyota and Honda were unavailable because of the Arab boycott. Air travel was still a luxury.
Fast forward a few decades and an entirely different picture emerges. Israel has become an economic powerhouse led by a booming high-tech sector and further boosted by natural gas discoveries. Per capita GDP figures rival and in some cases surpass those of long-established Western countries.
Culturally, Israel is less isolated than ever thanks to globalization and technological advances. Today, Israelis have access to the same TV shows and movies watched elsewhere. The internet has further connected the country to the world. Israel’s restaurant scene is thriving and has become more international and sophisticated. New vehicles of all brands hit the road en masse every year. Traveling abroad is an easily affordable pastime.
Meanwhile, Western economies have taken some hits. Many countries have seen growth slow down, while others are battling persistent problems such as unemployment among young people. In the bottom line, while the West retains a high standard of living, Israel is now in position to compete and offer an attractive alternative. However, economics is only part of the story.
World More Dangerous for Jews
For some decades, the West largely maintained political stability and offered its citizens a safe haven of peace, tranquility and limited social friction. Moreover, Jews in particular enjoyed unprecedented success and acceptance in America and in Europe. But this, too, has changed.
A host of issues, ranging from controversial immigration policies and growing political polarization to the rise of homegrown Islamic terrorism, have turned the West into a more turbulent place. Jews, especially, have been hit hard by the resurfacing of vicious and violent Antisemitism.
Given the changing realities, Western countries are becoming increasingly inhospitable for Jews. Prevalent Muslim Antisemitism in France, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, and anti-Jewish attacks and hostility in the United States are prompting more Jews to consider emigration.
Israel, despite facing some grave security challenges, offers a comforting option for apprehensive Jews. It is the one country in the world where they can fully embrace and celebrate their Judaism with no fear. Moreover, in a more dangerous and unstable world, Israel’s significant military power provides some assurances in case of geopolitical turmoil.
Will Immigration to Israel Skyrocket?
Of course, things could change quickly. A severe recession could again make Israel far less attractive economically. Alternately, a devastating war would make potential newcomers think twice about the wisdom of relocating.
However, if current trends continue, Israel is expected to become an even more appealing choice for both immigrants and native Israelis. Moreover, given its robust birthrate, it will gradually turn into a thriving medium-sized country, while others struggle to cope with declining birthrates and economies.
For the time being at least, immigration to Israel is expected to continue, and under certain scenarios, to significantly increase.