29 Nov, 2020
JERUSALEM WEATHER

Unlike immigration to other countries, olim to Israel are welcomed as long-lost brothers, educated and housed at great public expense. A combination of coronavirus and anti-Semitism is creating conditions expected to bring millions of Jews home. But the Israeli government, already stretched to the limit, is concerned they may not be able to fulfill the prophecy in the proper manner.

The Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs Committee met last Wednesday to discuss a major dilemma: Jewish immigration is expected to double nest year but budgetary constraints will make it difficult, if not impossible to absorb them into Israeli society.

Earlier this month, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog reported to the committee that an estimated 250,000 people, mostly young people, will immigrate to Israel within the next three to five years. Herzog added that the number of people who have contacted the Jewish Agency about Aliyah from English-speaking countries has increased by 50%, and by 70% from French-speaking countries.

Israel could receive as many as 90,000 new immigrants in 2021 – nearly three times the number of immigrants in 2019.

Jewish Agency CEO Amira Ahronoviz presented the official Aliyah statistics for 2019: 35,000 immigrants, including 24,651 from the Commonwealth of Independent States; 3,963 from European countries; 3,539 from North America; 1,746 from Latin America; 663 from Ethiopia; 442 from South Africa; 318 from Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries; and 189 from Australia and New Zealand. In 2009, only 16,000 people made Aliyah.

Though these declarations are certainly cause for celebration as manifestations of the prophesied ingathering of the exiles, coping with immigration to Israel requires preparing physical vessels to receive the divine blessings.

MK David Bitan (Likud) emphasized that Israel must prepare for a large wave of immigration in the next year and a half due to the fact that large Jewish communities overseas have seen a significant number of corona-related deaths, alongside the rising anti-Semitism around the world. 

The Israeli government goes to great efforts to help new immigrants with job placement, housing options, scholarships for new immigrant university students, and language skills. In the meeting on this subject last week, Bitan noted that immigration to Israel was being hampered by a shortage of consuls in Israeli embassies in the US. He also noted a shortage of manpower in Nativ, an independent administrative unit in the Prime Minister’s Office that is in charge of determining the eligibility to immigrate to Israel from the US and Eastern Europe based on the Law of Return.

The Law of Return gives Jews the right to come and live in Israel and to gain Israeli citizenship. Though simple in concept, the law raises issues of defining Jewish identity and, as a result, is controversial and complicated.

The committee called for making the citizenship process shorter than it currently is. Requests to make aliyah are processed in roughly four months. The pandemic has made the process longer and more difficult. 

MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), who is in charge of Nativ, said that even prior to the corona crisis, people would have to wait about six months for an appointment at the Israeli Embassy in Moscow to check their eligibility for immigration. “The significance of this is that anyone who decides to make Aliyah will be able to actually do it only a year from now,” he said. “In the meantime, he can, of course, change his mind, and we will lose this oleh (immigrant).”

According to Minister Elkin, Nativ’s budget for 2015 was $23.2 million but was reduced due to budgetary constraints to its current amount of  $16.2 million.

Nativ Director Neta Briskin-Peleg told the committee, “There are no shortcuts in checking eligibility. It is a complex, gentle (process) that takes time.” During the process, she explained, Nativ also has to deal with the “document forging industry.”   

Rabbi Jeremy Gimpel, founder of the Land of Israel Fellowship Program, noted that immigration to Israel embodies the prophecy as described by Jeremiah. 

Lo, I am sending for many fishermen —declares Hashem— And they shall haul them out; And after that I will send for many hunters, And they shall hunt them Out of every mountain and out of every hill And out of the clefts of the rocks. Jeremiah 16:16

“The prophet Jeremiah speaks of two stages of the ingathering of the Jewish People back to the land of Israel,” Rabbi Gimpel told Breaking Israel News, noting that we are clearly entering a new stage of this prophecy. “Looking at history, it seems as though country by country, the exile is being shut down. From Arab countries,  Ethiopia, Russia, France, and the rest of Europe… Now America is being shaken. It seems to be a new part of this larger process of return.”

Rabbi Gimpel emphasized that despite being prophecy, aliyah is, after all, produced through real-world means, requiring money.  

“Israel has absorbed more immigrants per capita than any other country in the world,” Rabbi Gimpel said. “It isn’t easy but it the foundational purpose of the State of Israel is to provide a national home for the Jewish People.”