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Guest Column

Wanted: A Pro-Active Aliyah Policy
By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
May 11, 2014 - 12:17:14 AM

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A pro-active Aliyah policy (the Jewish ingathering to the Jewish state) was Israel's most effective engine of growth and posture of deterrence. It catapulted the Jewish state from 650,000 Jews in 1948 to 6.5 million in 2014, from a $1.5bn economy in 1948 to $300bn in 2014, from a technology devoid country in 1948 to a commercial and defense technological powerhouse in 2014 (second only to the USA), from an insignificant military power in 1948 to a leading global military power in 2014, from a misperceived strategic liability in 1948 to the most reliable and capable ally of the US in 2014.

All Israeli prime ministers, from Ben Gurion (starting in 1948) through Shamir (ending in 1992), enforced a pro-active Aliyah policy in defiance of the demographic and bureaucratic establishments, crowning Aliyah as Israel's top national priority. They followed in the footsteps of most of the Zionist leaders from the late 19th century, who realized that Aliyah was the soul, flesh and lifeline for the reconstruction of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel. They did not engage in reactive policy, which would focus their attention on the absorption of the Olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel). Rather, they were preoccupied with a pro-active policy, generating waves of Aliyah in the aftermath of the wars of 1948-9 (from Arab countries), 1956 (from Poland) and 1967 (from the USSR and Eastern Europe), in the early 1960s (from Morocco) and the 1970s (from the USSR and Eastern Europe), from 1950 through 1995 (from Romania), during the 1980s and early 1990s (from Ethiopia) and during the 1990s (from the USSR). The groundwork for the arrival of one million Olim during the 1990s was carried out by Prime Minister Shamir during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Thus, they triggered waves of Aliyah totaling 3.5 million Jews, leveraging windows of opportunities, caused by ideological, social, economic, military, diplomatic and political regional and global developments in Israel, the Arab World, the USSR, Eastern Europe, Argentina and the USA (the US Congress played a critical role in liberalizing Soviet emigration policy). While most of the 3.5 million Jews aspired to emigrate anyway, it was Israel's pro-active policy which facilitated emigration and guided them to the Jewish state, rather than to the US, Europe, Canada or Australia. It was Prime Minister Shamir's pro-active Aliyah policy (e.g., pressuring the US to stop issuing refugee certificates to Soviet Jews, and recruiting the US Senate to pressure Moscow to allow Jewish emigrants to fly only to Israel), which eliminated the 80% dropout rate of Soviet Jews, who used to emigrate from the USSR but avoided Israel. The pro- active Aliyah policy was responsible for Israel's unprecedented growth, surging the Jewish state to the top of the OECD countries, demographically, economically, scientifically, technologically, medically, educationally, agriculturally and militarily. Without the pro-active Aliyah policy, the Jewish state would not have qualified for OECD membership, and possibly would not have survived the lethal challenges of the last 66 years.

In contrast to their predecessors, all Israeli prime ministers since 1992 have refrained from a pro-active Aliyah policy, thus depriving Israel of its most effective engine of growth and posture of deterrence. They have relegated Aliyah to a secondary national priority, subordinating the long-term Zionist vision to pessimistic assessments by the demographic and bureaucratic establishments, whose projections systematically precluded Aliyah waves on security, economic, cultural and educational grounds. Hence, recent Israeli prime ministers have limited their Aliyah policy to an annual increase of a few thousand Olim, rather than leveraging the current window of opportunity, which lends itself to another substantial wave of Aliyah.

Currently, there is a rare window of opportunity for a dramatic wave of Aliyah of at least 500,000 Jews during the next ten years from Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Argentina, and Western democracies such as Germany, France, England and the USA, which feature a significant infrastructure of Aliyah-oriented Jewish/Zionist education. That window of opportunity consists of the relative strength of Israel's economy; the confidence demonstrated by global high tech giants in Israel's long-term viability (e.g., Intel's recent $6bn expansion of its already robust Israeli presence); the sustained global economic uncertainty; the moderate (or no) cost of Jewish education in Israel; the rising threat of Islamic terrorism throughout the world; Israel's success in drastically curtailing Palestinian terrorism; the expansion of an Islamic presence in European countries with substantial Jewish communities; the intensification of global anti-Semitism; and the growing uncertainty in Russia and Ukraine.

A pro-active Aliyah policy requires the appointment of several country-dedicated task forces, headed by charismatic personalities and composed of experts in the areas of Aliyah generation and absorption, including the construction of employment, housing, transportation, telecommunications, education, health and medical infrastructures, as well as the passage of statutes and laws facilitating the swift integration of arriving engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers and other professionals into the Israeli market.

A failure, by the Israeli government to leverage this unique window of Aliyah opportunity -- producing an Aliyah wave of at least 500,000 Olim during the next ten years -- would haunt its leaders, adding a chapter of infamy to Jewish history.

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
The Ettinger Report
"Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative"
First published in "Israel Hayom" newsletter, May 9, 2014


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