Facts on the Ground: A Jewish Exodus from Israel

By Killgore, Andrew I. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Facts on the Ground: A Jewish Exodus from Israel


Killgore, Andrew I., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


A Jew who leaves Israel for any reason and does not return for at least one visit within four years.-Israel's definition of an emigrant.

Numbers talk in the Arab-Israel dispute. Indeed, they are the ultimate "facts on the ground," as the Israelis are wont to say. When the Balfour Declaration promising a Jewish homeland in Palestine was issued on Nov. 2, 1917, Jews constituted 7 percent of the total Palestinian population. On Nov. 29, 1947, when the United Nations partitioned Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, the Jewish population numbered 650,000, while the Palestinians were 1.35 million, or just over two-thirds.

During the 1948-1949 Arab-Israel war, Israel gained a population advantage when it terrorized 750,000 Palestinians into fleeing the portions of Palestine allotted to it by the U.N., and from the additional areas it seized during the fighting. A further 300,000 were "ethnically cleansed" from the West Bank in the 1967 war, when Israel conquered the rest of Palestine, plus Syria's Golan Heights.

In 1980-by which time statistics on Israeli emigration already had become supersecret-the semi-official Jewish Agency said Israel faced a "national emergency" because 500,000 Israelis were residing in the United States. The New York Times of Dec. 22, 1980 reported the national emergency story and the 500,000 figure.

Middle East observers long had predicted that the population race between Israelis and Palestinians would result in a tie around 1990. They had not reckoned, however, with the Russians who started going to Israel that year, when the Soviet Union broke up. Around 800,000 to a million Russians eventually immigrated-but not without some embarrassment to Israel.

Probably a third of the Russians had no real claim to being Jewish. But the worst part was that, at one point, 19 of 20 were choosing to immigrate to the United States rather than to Israel. This was when, gathered in Italy with Israeli visas, they were allowed to choose their ultimate destination. Later the Russian emigrants were given no choice but to fly directly to Israel.

Many Russians, however, apparently saw Israel as a second choice-a way station until the chance to go elsewhere presented itself. That, in fact, may be what's happening right now. The Nov. 19 edition of Haaretz quoted Nadia Prigat of the Israeli Immigration Absorption Ministry as saying that 760,000 Israelis are now living abroad, compared to 550,000 in 2000. If these figures are correct, this means that 210,000 Israelis have left since the second intifada began three years ago.

In the spring of 2003, when suicide bombers were active, a Washington Post article described crowds of Israelis around the American, Canadian and Australian embassies, presumably seeking visas. …

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