Israelis Want Out
On December 15, Haaretz said “almost 40 percent of Israelis are thinking of emigrating.” Recent poling said they’d leave if financially able.
Who are they? Why do they want out? What can be done to keep them?
Israeli governance combines militarism, repression, corruption, and neoliberal harshness. It’s no fit place to live in. Many Jews vote with their feet and leave. Others prepare by securing foreign passports.
Many of Israel’s best and brightest leave. New Central Bureau of Statistics data said last year over 14% of Israeli science and engineering doctorate holders lived abroad for three or more years. They left to work or study.
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They’re in no rush to return. Many never do. Current data confirm a long recognized brain drain. Holders of other advanced degrees leave permanently.
Israel tries hard to woe valued emigres back. Efforts so far fell short.
A 2008 Menachem Begin Heritage Center survey showed 59% of Israelis consider emigrating. They do so by inquiring about foreign citizenship and second passports. Growing numbers hold them.
Bar-Ilan University researchers say over 100,000 Israelis hold German passports. Thousands more acquire them annually. More than a million Israelis hold other foreign ones.
America is a popular choice. Over half a million Israelis hold US passports. Thousands of applications remain pending. A quarter million Israelis live in America.
In 2005, the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics said 650,000 Israelis away for over a year haven’t returned. Most were Jews.
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Growing numbers remaining are ideologically committed. Many are extremists. Others are indifferent, aging, unable to leave, or aren’t sure where to go. Emigrating abroad isn’t simple. Cost is a factor. Uprooting takes a toll. So does adjusting.
Gideon Levy once said, “If our forefathers dreamt of an Israeli passport to escape from Europe, there are many among us who are now dreaming of a second passport to escape to Europe.”
It’s “an irony of history, because Israel was established to become a shelter” (for Jews). Now Europe becomes a shelter for the Jews living in Israel.”
Perhaps today’s near 40% may increase exponentially ahead.
Families nationwide discuss leaving. Shirlee’s reflects others. Haaretz identified her only by first name. Every family dinner discussion includes emigration considerations.
Two of her three sons left earlier. In February, Nir left. He joined his brother, Idan, in Toronto. The youngest brother is about to begin compulsory military service.
Idan went to Toronto to study. He got involved in Jewish community activities. He went to work for a large local company. He had many options. He chose Canada.
Nir left because “no one cared about him here,” said Shirlee. “The people that get preferred are the ones who don’t serve, don’t contribute and don’t work, and in the end there is the difficulty of finding a job that suits his skills and will give him and his future family a decent living.”
She understands Idan’s feelings. She wishes otherwise. “We did not educate our children to leave.”
“We are very involved and active socially, and we find it sad that they do not see their future in this country.”
“We educated them that this is our home and our country, and that it’s wrong to give up your country.”
“For us as parents, it is very difficult. We are left alone and it also involves a breakdown of values. This was not our dream.” Israel’s finest sons and daughters are leaving, she added.
“They are good, high-quality people who can contribute – from doctors and nurses to engineers.”
“The emigration phenomenon here was once branded ‘a fallout of cowards,’ but these days the people who are leaving are talented.”
“They stand out abroad. They are considered smart and successful compared to the Canadians. Many don’t come back.”
Haaretz cited Meida Shivuki CI survey results. Noam Raz and Merav Shapira manage things. Results showed 37% of Israelis consider leaving.
Many feel they reached their glass ceiling, said Professor Sergio Della Pergola. Advancing economically is most often mentioned. About 55% of respondents said so.
Whether or not they’ll go, large numbers prefer living elsewhere. Potential emigres are center/left-of-center voters. They’re largely aged 30 – 49.
They’re secular, salaried, and southern Israeli inhabitants. Many come from greater Tel Aviv. Survey research was completed before Pillar of Cloud.
At the same time, Israeli war winds blow constantly. Netanyahu and likeminded hardliners rail against “terrorists,” Iran, and other invented enemies to stoke fear.
It wears thin. It’s worrisome living in a modern-day Sparta. Still, few leave for ideological reasons. Economic/financial considerations take precedence.
Neoliberal harshness imposes crushing burdens. Over time, things worsen. Last July, Haaretz headlined “Why Israelis will never attain Western living standards,” saying:
Someone has to pay for defense. Netanyahu advanced inequality. It didn’t begin with him. For decades, Israeli social spending lagged other developed countries.
In the past decade, the gap between rich and poor widened dramatically. The disease hits Americans hard. Reasons in both countries are similar.
Guns are prioritized over butter. Wealth, power and privilege most of all. Neoliberal harshness is policy. People needs get short shrift.
Living standards in both countries rank lowest among OECD countries. They top the inequality scale. Unprecedented wealth disparity between rich and poor reflects it.
Israel ranks 29th among 36 countries on investment in education. It’s third from last in health spending. It’s 25th in overall quality of life, and dead last in responsible government administration.
Netanyahu claims smaller government, lower corporate/rich elite taxes, mass privatizations, eroding wages, and less social spending create economic growth. Inequality is a small price to pay, he claims.
Growing poverty and unmet needs suggest otherwise. Relief from intolerable conditions drives some to leave. Others go because better opportunities exist elsewhere.
URU (Wake Up) cofounder Tomer Treves says “What’s happening today in Israel recalls the process undergone by Jerusalem.”
City life reflects “every possible conflict every day. Those who left the city over the years were people able to make a living, and the city grew poor. Without state funding, it would not be sustainable.”
Treves calls today’s reverse exodus “the moving of the capable.” People leave “because of what became of the Zionist idea.”
“The moment the tie with Israel is weakened, the point of remaining is measured by the quality of life, and Israel is not in a good place from that point of view.”
“The right and the left in present-day Israel are in dispute over one issue: where on our scale of identity we place Jewish identity.”
“The more of a humanist and liberal you are, the lower you situate your Jewish identity.”
“It’s been like that ever since Benjamin Netanyahu whispered into the ear of (the late kabbalist) Rabbi Kaduri, ‘The leftists have forgotten what it is to be Jewish.’ ”
Perhaps they prefer being secular and human instead. Their values differ greatly from state-sponsored ones. They prioritize economic/financial considerations. No ideological tie binds them to Israel.
Foreign passports are considered insurance. Holders are mostly Ashkenazim (European) children and grandchildren.
Israeli strategic consultant/lecturer Noam Manella says they’ve “been transformed from being identified with the state into a segment of their own.”
They’re another “population center, like the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs, and the Russians.” Many call themselves “a negligible minority in Israel.”
They then ask “What connects me to the country?”
Alienated Israelis say it’s “preferable to feel that way in a more comfortable location – one that also offers diverse and interesting possibilities for professional development.”
“A young Israeli start-up person can feel more of a kinship with an American counterpart in Silicon Valley than with the neighbor across the hall.”
It’s because Israel delinked from its people. It happened decades ago. Inequality defines Israeli society.
It shows in military service, religious extremism, sweeping privatizations, prioritized wealth/power/and privilege, neoliberal harshness, and abandonment of ordinary Israelis as well as those most disadvantaged.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar says efforts to link Israelis to state policies are wrongheaded.
“At one time, people were connected through large national symbols, but today the only thing that can create the connection is mutual commitment, and the state has to seize that – equality in bearing the burden.”
“The existential danger that once connected us is now separating us. That’s because the state has failed to generate compensation or a fair exchange for the existential problem in our region.”
“The classic mistake is to try to connect people to the state through patriotic symbols, when what they are looking for is mutual commitment.”
They want equality prioritized. Polar opposite policies impede it. Career opportunities for qualified Israelis are shrinking. Emigration patterns follow education levels.
Academic degree holders are more likely to emigrate than high school graduates. Doctorate holders and other highly skilled Israelis leave more often than those lesser educated.
Career opportunities drive them. Advancement is prioritized. Prosperity is sought. Leaving doesn’t preclude returning. Some do. Others don’t. Visits maintain family ties.
Data suggest one in five Israeli emigres return. Those gone longer term don’t come back. Career opportunities plant deep roots.
Professor Dan Ben-David also serves as Taub Center executive director. He studied Israel’s brain-drain phenomenon five years ago. America benefits most.
“There are eight Israelis in the Computer Sciences Department of Stanford, which is almost a sub-department,” he says. He’s concerned about Israeli academia, national character and image.
He’s “apprehensive” about “reach(ing) a point of demographic no-return here,” he added.
“Demography refers not only to births, but also to those who remain here to live. At present, it is still possible to shift the country onto a sustainable track, but in another decade that will no longer be possible.”
“Today, half the children in Israel receive a lower-level education than is the case in third world countries, and that number is only increasing. That’s what the elections should be about.”
At issue is more than about losing skilled computer science talent. Across the board skills are threatened. The percent of highly skilled Israelis leaving is far higher than from the general population.
Israel, Italy, and perhaps other troubled Eurozone countries are the only ones where highly educated emigres exceed skilled immigrants. Poor countries follow this pattern.
Why live where government priorities do more harm than good. Why choose poor career opportunity environments. Israelis are like people everywhere. Who can blame them.
They vote with their feet. They emigrate where they’re most welcome. They go where their interests are best served. For many it’s not in Israel.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.
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