Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israeli citizenship

Israel Is Home of Choice for its Citizens

An article by Pini Herman, a principal at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research, published today in the Forward, directly takes on the popular notion that “millions” of Israelis live abroad. If Herman is right, rather than facing an ongoing drain of some of its most successful Jewish citizens, Israel has been largely successful in either retaining them or recapturing those who left to spend significant time abroad.

In other words, even after a decade that has seen 1,000 Israelis killed in the worst terrorist onslaught in the history of modern Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel, two inconclusive wars, an ongoing and seemingly insoluble conflict with the Palestinians, the rise to power of Islamists across its near abroad, the steady march of a foe committed to its destruction toward nuclear weapons, and rising condemnations of its very existence seemingly in every corner of the globe, the Jewish state continues to be the home of choice for its citizens, even those with easy opportunities to move their lives to other friendly and developed countries.

Herman bases his argument on a new study from Pew that found only 230,000 Jewish Israelis are now living outside of the country. He writes, “The new data confirms that Israel, at 4 percent, has retained its Jewish native-born population at a higher rate, usually double the average 8 percent retention of native borns of most other countries in the world.” Many Israelis return to their native country after spending time abroad picking up skills in valuable industries like high-tech that then become assets for the development of more initiatives based in Israel itself. So instead of draining talent, Israeli emigration is often circulatory, enabling an ever higher percentage of talented Israelis to find the work opportunities they seek without leaving home.

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An article by Pini Herman, a principal at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research, published today in the Forward, directly takes on the popular notion that “millions” of Israelis live abroad. If Herman is right, rather than facing an ongoing drain of some of its most successful Jewish citizens, Israel has been largely successful in either retaining them or recapturing those who left to spend significant time abroad.

In other words, even after a decade that has seen 1,000 Israelis killed in the worst terrorist onslaught in the history of modern Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel, two inconclusive wars, an ongoing and seemingly insoluble conflict with the Palestinians, the rise to power of Islamists across its near abroad, the steady march of a foe committed to its destruction toward nuclear weapons, and rising condemnations of its very existence seemingly in every corner of the globe, the Jewish state continues to be the home of choice for its citizens, even those with easy opportunities to move their lives to other friendly and developed countries.

Herman bases his argument on a new study from Pew that found only 230,000 Jewish Israelis are now living outside of the country. He writes, “The new data confirms that Israel, at 4 percent, has retained its Jewish native-born population at a higher rate, usually double the average 8 percent retention of native borns of most other countries in the world.” Many Israelis return to their native country after spending time abroad picking up skills in valuable industries like high-tech that then become assets for the development of more initiatives based in Israel itself. So instead of draining talent, Israeli emigration is often circulatory, enabling an ever higher percentage of talented Israelis to find the work opportunities they seek without leaving home.

Some of the best-known recent success stories of Israelis confirm Herman’s idea. Tal Ben-Shahar achieved extraordinary success in the United States through his teaching of a popular course at Harvard on popular psychology, which itself led to the publication of a popular book, and appearances on “60 Minutes,” “The Daily Show,” and other popular media, opening the possibility of a lucrative and satisfying career on his subject matter of choice in the United States. Instead, as he explains in a new movie he narrates about life in Israel, after more than a decade in America he returned to Israel to be with his family and where he feels most at home. (While in the United States Ben-Shahar was also one of the early thought leaders behind The David Project.)

Similarly, as described in Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s Start-Up Nation, Israeli engineer Michael Laor had proven himself so important to Cisco in California that when he decided to return to Israel in 1997, they built their first R&D center outside of the United States in Israel in order to keep him.

Even many of Israel’s supporters have the strange habit of seeing in its successes – whether they are military victories or the creation of native industries – dangers to its ultimate survival. Serious challenges do indeed exist. But that’s no reason not to look with a clear eye at all the Jewish state has going in its favor.

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Why Do Arabs and Muslims Keep Trying to Move to the “Apartheid State”?

As Israel Apartheid Week circumnavigates the globe this month, a Jordan-based Palestinian journalist has offered an eloquent rebuttal that every Israel supporter should memorize and quote. If Israel is really an “apartheid state,” asks Ramzi Abu Hadid, “Why has it become the dream of many Arab Christians and Muslims to emigrate to the ‘apartheid state’? Is it possible that all these people are uninformed? Or do they really know the truth about Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East?”

Specifically, he noted, “thousands of the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip … try to infiltrate into Israel every morning in search of work and a better life,” while “tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims have put their lives at risk by crossing the border into Israel from Egypt, where border guards often open fire at women and children.” In addition, “many Christian families from Bethlehem and even the Gaza Strip have moved to live in Israel because they feel safer in the ‘apartheid state’ than they do among their Muslim ‘brothers.’”

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As Israel Apartheid Week circumnavigates the globe this month, a Jordan-based Palestinian journalist has offered an eloquent rebuttal that every Israel supporter should memorize and quote. If Israel is really an “apartheid state,” asks Ramzi Abu Hadid, “Why has it become the dream of many Arab Christians and Muslims to emigrate to the ‘apartheid state’? Is it possible that all these people are uninformed? Or do they really know the truth about Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East?”

Specifically, he noted, “thousands of the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip … try to infiltrate into Israel every morning in search of work and a better life,” while “tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims have put their lives at risk by crossing the border into Israel from Egypt, where border guards often open fire at women and children.” In addition, “many Christian families from Bethlehem and even the Gaza Strip have moved to live in Israel because they feel safer in the ‘apartheid state’ than they do among their Muslim ‘brothers.’”

Abu Hadid doesn’t provide hard numbers, but the data amply prove his claims. During the first 11 months of last year alone, for instance, 13,851  illegal migrants entered Israel from Sinai; the biggest contingents were Muslim refugees from Sudan and Eritrea. And the risk of being shot by Egyptian guards is just one of the dangers they braved to reach “the apartheid state”: Migrants also face horrific abuse from the Sinai Bedouin who smuggle them over the border.

As for Palestinians, those who “try to infiltrate into Israel every morning” are only part of the story. To that, add the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have moved to Jerusalem in recent years rather than remain on the Palestinian side of Israel’s West Bank security barrier. Then add the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have sought and obtained Israeli citizenship by marrying Israeli Arabs.

Altogether, some 350,000 Palestinians have acquired citizenship through “family reunification” since Israel’s founding in 1948, according to veteran journalist Nadav Shragai. But the numbers surged following the 1993 Oslo Accord – i.e., precisely when Palestinian statehood for the first time looked like a real possibility: In 1994-2002, fully 137,000 Palestinians acquired Israeli citizenship through marriage. The numbers have since dropped drastically, but that isn’t because Palestinian demand has fallen: It’s because in 2003, Israel enacted new restrictions on family reunification in response to the second intifada.

Abu Hadid’s argument also has a flip side, as he himself noted: Unlike Israel, many of its Arab neighbors do engage in legalized discrimination against Palestinians. In Jordan, for instance, “the government has been trying to strip thousands of us Palestinians of our Jordanian citizenship – a move Israel never made against its Christians and Muslims.” He might also have mentioned a long list of other discriminatory practices: Until recently, for instance, Jordan barred Palestinians from Gaza from owning property or working in any job except manual labor and farming, while Lebanon also bars Palestinians from owning property or working in a long list of professions.

In short, the simplest response to the “apartheid” charge is the one Americans once used to counter Soviet propaganda: Just look at the direction of the population flow. It turns out Arabs and Muslims are voting with their feet in favor of the “apartheid state.”

 

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