The Knesset Aliyah and Klita committee (Hebrew) today discussed the worrying statistic that in 2004 for the first time since the mid 1980s the numbers of Yordim (people leaving Israel) will ourstrip those making Aliyah. Demographers have long been forecasting doom and gloom with regard to the relative growth of the Jewish and Arab populations between the Jordan and the Med and this would seem to be an additional cause for concern, but how seriously should the issue really be taken.
According to stats culled from the WZO and Misrad Haklita, despite the fact that Aliyah is at it's lowest point in 15 years, the number of people making Aliyah in 2004 is comparable to the figure who arrived in 1989, the final year before the collapse of communism and is higher than the number who arrived any year between 1980 and 1988. In addition, as has been widely reported in the papers, the number of Olim from North America is at a 20 year high, whilst Aliyah from France and the United Kingdom is also on the increase.
Although when looked at over a 25 period as opposed to a 15 year period the Aliyah figures appear less problematic, the figures of those leaving the country are far more concerning but how exactly does one quantify a person leaving? The Central Bureau of Statistics uses the definition of a person who is away from Israel for more than a year but admits that this definition is extremely problematic in that it includes post army backpackers, students, employees temporarily residing overseas and its even ironically the case that Jewish Agency Shlichim would be included in these figures.
Mixed in with these people however are many people who are genuinely leaving Israel - whether Sabras looking to see if the grass really is greener, or Olim returning to their country of origin or going on to a third country. It is clear that using the definition of the CBS that those who left did so at least a year ago - probably sometime in mid 2003.
Looking back to other times in Israel's history when those leaving outstripped those arriving, we can see a common thread - the main period where it happened was in the 1980s. Israel's economy was in tatters and the country was under fire from the international community due to the Lebanon War.
The problem therefore, is actually one that effects the whole country and has been effecting it since 2000. Before 2000, Israel's economy was flourishing, the average wage was rising and unemployment was low. PM Barak was negotiating towards bringing a Palestinian state into being and Israel's stock was fairly high in International eyes.
Since the start of the Intifada, coupled with the collapse of the economy, the reasons to stay in Israel have been under attack - for a person to make Aliyah for ideological reasons is all well and good but it they can't find a job and feed their family whilst suicide bombers make them afraid to leave their house, then that ideology is not enough. An Israeli who has gone through school and the army here but can't make his mortgage payments is going to find it difficult to justify not going elsewhere.
All the pointers are that the country is headed in the right direction; the economy is improving, people feel more secure and with Arafat out of the picture and a National Unity Government, it appears that an opportunity to get the peace process back on track is presenting itself.
The Government must take steps to encourage the creation of jobs and to further stimulate the economy. Assistance for the needy must be improved so that those who really do need the welfare system can survive. Efforts must be made to keep our talented population here and to encourage those who have left to return. The root causes for an increase in yerida appear to be being dealt with as the economy makes the correct noises but additional steps must be taken by the government to find out why people are leaving and to solve these problems.
Of the more than a million Olim who have arrive since 1989, some 100,000 have left - less than 10% - a success rate of 90+% is generally something to be proud of and it is important to see the positive side of things. Putting a positive spin is not enough however - more Aliyah and fewer Yordim is what the State needs.....