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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Jewish immigration to Israel slashed in 2020 over pandemic

Israel has sought to attract Jewish settlers from all around the world [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 February, 2021

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Since its creation in 1948 in what was historic Palestine, Israel has sought to attract Jewish settlers from all around the world.
Jewish immigration to Israel dropped by nearly 40 percent over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic, official figures seen by AFP on Monday showed.

Some 21,200 Jews immigrated to Israel in 2020, compared to around 33,500 the year before, constituting a drop of 36.7 percent, according to data released by Israel's immigration ministry and Jewish Agency.

The largest drop in aliyah, the Hebrew term for Jewish immigration to Israel, was recorded among newcomers from Russia, with 6,260 arriving in 2020 compared to over 15,000 in 2019.

The decrease in immigration was attributed by the semi-governmental Jewish Agency to the "paralysis in air travel and ongoing crisis" of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Immigration from France, however, seemed to be unaffected by the global health crisis.

French aliyah had leapt following the Paris attacks of 2015 that targeted the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, customers at a Jewish supermarket and a concert hall. It then declined and stabilised at around 2,500 Jews immigrating to Israel per annum in 2019 and 2020. 

"The pandemic did not lower the motivation to make aliyah, on the contrary," the director of the Jewish Agency in France, Arie Abitbol, told AFP

"Despite the fact that for three months immigration has not been possible due to the lockdowns, the number of olim (immigrants) remained the same in 2020," he said.

According to Abitbol, the economic difficulties in Europe along with Israel's management of the health crisis, including a speedy vaccination campaign that has already reached a third of the country's nine million-strong population, have increased French Jews' interest in aliyah.

"We are overwhelmed by requests, especially from seniors and young people, families experiencing the uncertainty of an economic crisis due to the pandemic," he said.

Read also: UN calls on Israel to stop new settlement construction in West Bank 

"Many people in the community say the health system in Israel is more reliable than in France and fear that the doors of Israel will be closed to them" if they don't arrive soon, he added.

Since its creation in 1948 in what was historic Palestine, Israel has sought to attract Jewish settlers from all around the world, including Europe before and after the Nazi Holocaust.

The most recent waves of Jewish migration came from Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Ethiopia.

At the same time, Israel has pursued a policy of expulsion and marginalisation of the Palestinian native population, beginning with the Nakba, which saw more than 700,000 Palestinians driven out of their homes as a result of the violence that accompanied the creation of Israel.

To date, Israel does not allow millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendents within historic Palestine and outside to return to their lands, despite repeated UN Security Council resolutions upholding their right of return, while encouraging Jewish migration and settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in violation of international law.

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