Thursday, April 12, 2012
Ettinger - Aliyah: The body and soul of Israel
12 April '12..
Global economic, social and educational circumstances make Israel an attractive place for 500,000 "olim" (Jewish immigrants to Israel) during the next decade. Is Israel’s leadership up to the challenge of taking in olim from the former USSR, France, England, Germany, Latin America, the U.S. and Canada? Can it display the required tenacious pro-activity and defiance, rather than relative passivity and timidity, in encouraging aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel)?
For the first time, Israel is attracting 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 percent; 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 $75 billion; 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 energized 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, intensifying anti-Semitism and increasingly assertive and growing Muslim 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 of cost, 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, to realize the goal of attracting 500,000 potential olim requires Israel’s current leaders to significantly alter the country's aliyah policy. They should emulate Israeli prime ministers from 1948 (David Ben-Gurion) to 1992 (Yitzhak Shamir) who considered aliyah a top priority and proactively 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.
In his book "Uniqueness and Destiny," Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed: “… Our mission is the Ingathering, which will impact our future security and the global standing of our people … Our independence shall not be sustained without the Ingathering ... It is incumbent upon Israel to initiate [proactively] the Ingathering ... The Ingathering is the fountain of growth of the Jewish State ... Israel is not designed, solely, for its inhabitants, but for the entire Jewish People ... A Zionist movement which disassociates itself from the Ingathering dooms itself to degeneration and destitute ...”
Shamir echoed Ben-Gurion’s aliyah ideology (Conversations with Yitzhak Shamir, 1997): "… We need to be proactive 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 aliyah ...”
Indeed, Israel owes its existence to the first waves of aliyah beginning in 1882 and to the 3.6 million olim who have arrived since 1948. Israel owes its current robust economy and its achievements in the fields of science, technology, medicine, education and culture to the 1 million olim who arrived from the former USSR during the 1990s. The influx of these olim triggered the high-tech revolution, which has attracted many billions of dollars of overseas investments. They have significantly reduced military service per capita and have substantially bolstered Israel’s posture regionally and globally.
The 700,000 olim from 1948 to 1951, the 350,000 olim from the 1970s and the 1 million afforementioned olim from the 1990s would not have arrived if Israeli prime ministers had not defied the superpowers and most of Israel’s establishment. They dismissed claims by leading Israeli demographers that Jews would not come to a war-plagued country with a weak economy; that cultural, economic, security and technological constraints preclude any large wave of aliyah; and that Western Jews could – but did not want to – come, while Communist Bloc Jews wanted to, but could not come.
Half a million olim over the next 10 years is a realistic goal – a security, economic and diplomatic game changer. Will Israel’s leadership rise to the occasion?
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