The Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization are holding their meetings in Jerusalem during this week. Alas, the issue of aliya, which warrants priority on their agenda, beyond a few words of lip service, will almost certainly be shunted to the sidelines.
Despite the dramatic erosion in the status of diaspora Jewish communities, with the exception of North America and Australia, short of cataclysmic developments, a mass influx of Jews to Israel in the immediate future is highly unlikely. Aside from other considerations, the perception of ongoing terrorism confronting Israeli citizens, not to mention the long term existential threat posed by a potentially nuclear Iran, deters many who might otherwise be tempted to come.
Yet despite this, a climate prevails today which may encourage a limited but high-quality Western aliya based on choice.
Europe is likely to be the greatest source for aliya because anti-Israeli hysteria, the surrogate employed by anti-Semites to vilify the Jewish people, has now reached feverish levels.
During the Middle Ages, the “Satanic Jews” were blamed for plagues, poisoned wells and all natural disasters. In the twentieth century Jews were blamed for foisting both capitalism and communism on mankind.
For a short period immediately following the Holocaust, when the horrors of unbridled anti-Semitism were exposed, anti-Semites were considered to be an extinct species. But today the world’s oldest hatred has reemerged as the greatest global political growth industry and Israel, the state of the Jews, has been transformed into the embodiment of all evil. It is depicted as the greatest threat to global stability and peace. European opinion polls even assert that the Jewish state poses a greater menace to mankind than the rogue states of Iran, Syria and North Korea.
A review of the media is sufficient to gauge the extent to which Europeans at the grassroots level loathe Israel and Jews. Media talkbacks representing primitive vox populi make frightening reading. But even liberal editorials and features by purportedly respectable commentators relate to Jews and Israel in a manner that would have been inconceivable only a decade ago.
In fact even Holocaust inversion has become the order of the day and is sickeningly exploited against Israelis who are being accused of behaving like Nazis. This even applies in Germany as exemplified by the “popular” response to Gunter Grass’s obscene anti-Semitic diatribe. Robert Wistrich, a world expert on anti-Semitism, is of the view that European anti-Semitism is today, in some respects, worse than the 1930s, when at least a number of left-wing and liberal groups defended Jews.
Not surprisingly, as was the case throughout much of Jewish history – and not least of all before the Holocaust – many Jews living in a hostile environment simply bury their heads and live in a state of denial. They understate their Jewish identity and are inclined to avoid expressing public support for Israel. Some distance themselves or even criticize Israel in order to achieve social respectability.
The impact is felt especially on young people during their formative years at schools and universities where they increasingly face physical violence as well as verbal hostility. There are even cases of Jewish children attending non Jewish schools no longer absenting themselves on Jewish holidays in order to avoid drawing attention to their Jewish affiliation.
Many Europeans Jews are conscious of the impact of being domiciled in countries surrounded by people who despise them and in which they and, especially, their children are obliged to suppress pride in their Jewishness. Some have concluded that there is no long term future for Jewish life in Europe and even if it is too late or problematic for them to leave, encourage their children to settle in Israel in order to live as self-respecting Jews in pride and dignity unassociated with complexes and pressures.
In North America and Australia where anti-Semitism is less overt, there are other factors encouraging aliya. Jewish continuity has become a serious issue for the Diaspora community as rates of intermarriage and assimilation have grown exponentially over the past few decades, with no family immune. It is even beginning to encroach on the most ethnocentric sector– the Orthodox Jewish community.
Providing a basic Jewish education is no guarantee but is at least a prerequisite for continuity. Yet in most diaspora communities, a Jewish education is increasingly becoming the exclusive domain of the wealthy because it has become prohibitively expensive. This applies especially in North America and Australia where parents providing their children with an integrated Jewish schooling are then obliged to cover the total costs of the broader secular education.
Only in Israel are Jewish children automatically provided with a state-sponsored Jewish education – religious or secular – as an extension of their overall education. For some Jewish families committed to providing their children with a Jewish education, this itself represents a major incentive for aliya.
In addition, whereas in the past making aliya from Western countries was usually associated with economic sacrifice and a lowering of living standards, immigrating to Israel today in many cases actually provides economic benefits. Indeed, unless the prevailing resilient Israeli economy reverses itself, there are greater opportunities, especially for young people, for economic self-advancement than in many Western countries which are in the grip of painful recessions.
It is a combination of all of these factors which could generate increasing numbers of Jews from affluent Western societies, even those not suffused with anti-Semitism, to settle in Israel. As to security, whilst the den of scorpions surrounding Israel certainly places the Jewish state on constant alert, terrorism and the nuclear threat are global issues as testified by the violent attacks happening throughout the entire world.
The discordant note is that today, when prospects for high quality Western aliya out of choice have never been so good, the state’s aliya instrumentalities seem to have hibernated. It is utterly shameful that the Jewish Agency has effectively sidelined aliya from being a primary objective, concentrating instead on a nebulous aim of “reinforcing Jewish identity” – meaningless rhetoric which assuages the American Jewish establishment that Israel is not seeking to lure away its youngsters. The Agency has in fact formally abrogated its primary aliya role to Nefesh B’Nefesh which provides an excellent service but is limited to assisting olim to integrate.
Our government should encourage aliya as a major priority.
This year, whilst the numbers of Jews in most diaspora communities continue shrinking due to assimilation and intermarriage, the Jewish population of Israel is projected to exceed six million. Increased Western aliya would be a boon for the Jewish state which would benefit from an infusion of highly motivated, primarily professional and cultured Jews. It will also strengthen ties with the diaspora because every Jew who settles here maintains connection with families who invariably become more closely engaged with the Jewish state.
The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.