Aliyah – Israel's Body and Soul

"Israel Hayom", April 13, 2012

Global economic, social and educational circumstances provide Israel with a window of opportunity for 500,000 Olim, during the next decade, from the former USSR, France, England, Germany, Latin America, the USA and Canada. Is Israel’s leadership up to the challenge, which requires tenacious pro-activity and defiance, rather than relative-passivity and timidity, in encouraging Aliyah (Jewish Ingathering)?!

For the first time, Israel attracts Olim due to economic – not only ideological - considerations. Against the backdrop of global economic meltdown and uncertainty, Israel’s credit rating has been upgraded and its GDP growth exceeds any Western country. Unemployment is 5.4%; the national debt is less than 75% of GDP; inflation is at 1%-3%; no mega-stimulus; banks are managed with fiscal responsibility; all time high foreign exchange reserves of $75BN; the flow of overseas investments is robust; exports are sustained at high levels despite global economic insecurity; high-tech industries are expanding; and the economy is adrenalized by the surging secular Jewish fertility rate, increased Aliyah, reduced Jewish emigration, accelerated return by expatriates and growing integration of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel’s workforce. By 2018, Israel is expected to become a major net-exporter of natural gas and a growing producer of oil and, possibly, shale-oil.

Rising anti-Semitism in the Ukraine and in Russia, accompanied by shattered expectations of democracy in the former USSR, is producing an Aliyah-tailwind among the 750,000 Jews there (according to conservative estimates).  A formal conversion of 300,000 Olim, who are yet to be recognized as Jews by Israel’s Rabbinate, will bolster that tailwind. Weak economies, intensified anti-Semitism and increasingly-assertive and growing Moslem communities in France, England and other European countries, have increased the number of Olim. Economic insecurity and dramatically-expanded, but very costly, Jewish/Zionist education systems (mostly modern-orthodox), have augmented the Aliyah potential from the USA. Jewish/Zionist education is provided, almost-free, in Israel.

Sixty four years of Arab-Israeli wars and Palestinian terrorism have not deterred the 3.6 million Olim since 1948, as they have not deterred more than 400 high tech giants, which invest substantially in Israel. Moreover, recent waves of Islamic terrorism in Europe, the USA, Asia and Africa have highlighted the relative-security in Israel.

However, the realization of the 500,000-Olim-potential requires Israel’s current leadership to significantly alter its Aliyah policy. They should emulate Israeli Prime Ministers from 1948 (Ben Gurion, Labor) to 1992 (Shamir, Likud), who considered Aliyah to be their top priority, and pro-actively generated major waves of Aliyah.  They considered Aliyah the moral compass of the Jewish State and its most important growth engine.  They were aware that Aliyah and migration have been the key factors determining the Jewish-Arab demographic balance between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Israel’s Founding Father, Prime Minister Ben Gurion proclaimed (Uniqueness and Destiny, 1954): “…Our mission is the Ingathering, which will impact our future security and the global standing of our people (p. 10)…. Our independence shall not be sustained without the Ingathering (p. 55)…. It is incumbent upon Israel to initiate [pro-actively] the Ingathering (101)…. The Ingathering is the fountain of growth of the Jewish State (p. 168)…. Israel is not designed, solely, for its inhabitants, but for the entire Jewish People (p. 193)…. A Zionist movement which disassociates itself from the Ingathering dooms itself to degeneration and destitute (p. 203)….”

Prime Minister Shamir echoed Ben Gurion’s Aliyah ideology (Conversations with Yitzhak Shamir, Haim Misgav, 1997): ”…We need to be pro-active in order to bring millions of Jews to Israel…. We are not doing enough to generate and absorb Aliyah…. Aliyah is a moral imperative…. The Land of Israel exists in order to absorb Jews…. The Jewish State would not survive without Aliya…. (pp. 132-3).” 

Indeed, Israel owes its existence to the annual Aliyah since 1882 and to the 3.6 million Olim who arrived since 1948. Israel owes its current robust economy, science, technology, medicine, education and culture to the one million Olim who arrived from the former USSR during the 1990s.  The influx of the one million triggered the high tech revolution, which has attracted mega-billion dollars of overseas investments.  It has significantly reduced military service per capita, and has substantially bolstered Israel’s posture regionally and globally.

The 700,000 Olim of 1948-1951, the 350,000 Olim of the 1970s and the one million Olim of the 1990s would not have arrived if Israeli Prime Ministers had not defied the Super Powers and most of Israel’s establishment.  They dismissed claims by leading Israeli demographers that Jews would not come to a war-plagued and an economy-deprived country; that cultural, economic, security and technological constraints preclude an Aliya wave; and that Western Jews could – but did not want to come – while Communist Bloc Jews wanted – but could not come.

500,000 Olim during the next ten years is a realistic goal – a security, economic and diplomatic game changer – which depends upon Israel’s leadership.  Will it rise to the occasion?!