Has Aliyah from North American peaked- or is it stalling? (Jerry Haber)

The following was originally posted on The Magnes Zionist.

Here’s something that caught my eye. In today’s Haaretz there was an article about the “sharp rise” in aliyah since last calendar year (the calendar in question is the Jewish one), in fact, 18%. This is the second year in a row that there was such a rise. Jewish Agency’s Natan Sharansky put the good news succinctly:

“After 10 years during which we saw less and less immigrants, now we see an increase,” said Sharansky yesterday at a press conference at the Jewish Agency’s Jerusalem headquarters. “This year there were more immigrants from the former Soviet Union, more immigrants from the United States, from Britain and from South Africa – there’s an increase from almost everywhere.”

From the Hebrew version we learn that 5,130 Jews made aliyah from English-speaking countries, but the Jewish Agency didn’t say what percentage increase that was, and understandably so – the increase was lower than in previous years.

That struck me as odd. I personally know people making aliyah from America, and I have been to the sleek new offices of Nefesh b’Nefesh, the organization that since 2002 markets and organizes aliyah. The stories in the media of the last few years have been about the sharp rise in the number of North American immigrations from year to year. Here’s one from 2007. And here’s one from the Wall Street Journal at the end of 2009. And what about all those pictures in August of plane-loads arriving?

But a comparison of the first six months of 2010 (1707) with the same time frame in 2009 (1746), using the figures from the Ministry of Absorption, shows a slight drop in aliyah from North America this year. (The biggest month is traditionally August.) The numbers, of course, are still good compared with five years ago, but they are so small as to be insignificant in the greater scheme of things.

So what should we conclude from this? That despite the efforts of Birthright and Nefesh b’Nefesh, and despite the continuing recession in America, and the relatively good economic times in Israel, or the ability to live in one country and work in another – that despite these and other facts, the “mini-boom” in aliyah from America has peaked?

Or would it be better to infer that the numbers of new immigrants to Israel is so miniscule that an overall rise in 18% (depending on how you count, and whom you rely on for your statistics) means very little – in fact, it means an increase of a mere ¼ of 1 percent of Israel’s population (7,308,800).

Since the waning of the Russian aliyah in the early 1990’s, there has been no numerically significant aliyah, which is why the per cent increases can be so big. Isn’t it past time to reformulate the Law of Return to be more in keeping with immigration policies of the nations of the world? Preference can be given to people fleeing religious persecution – but no more than that.

Or, even better, to replace it with an immigration law that gives some preference to the two major national groups, Jews and Palestinians?