Costs, not ideology, driving North American Jews to move to Israel

North American Jews who are moving to Israel are increasingly doing so for economic reasons – however, it is being packaged as Zionism

Ironically, while people around the country are pitching tents to protest the high rent prices and general cost of living in Israel, a plane full of North Americans just immigrated to Israel due to what they claim is the pull of cheaper education and health (oh and Zionism as well, of course).

Costs, not ideology, driving North American Jews to move to Israel
(Photo: Mairav Zonszein)

In an article entitled “For the sake of a Jewish education” (Hebrew), Ynet is reporting that 250 new immigrants moved through Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN), an American nonprofit whose mission is to encourage Anglo Jews across the West, to move to Israel (including to the Occupied Territories, to locations such as Maale Adumim and Efrat). Among other things, NBN offers every new immigrant a few thousand dollars in cash upon arrival (contingent upon their remaining in the country for over 3 years), in addition to consultation and help once in Israel on everything from where to live to employment.

The article of course forgets to mention that in addition to the cash incentive NBN provides new immigrants (many of whom are already in a much better socioeconomic position than Israelis born and raised here who can barely make their rent), new immigrants already receive an “absorption basket” from the Israeli government, paid for by citizens’ tax money, which provides them years of financial assistance, including a waiver of tuition on a first degree, rental assistance and tax exemptions on bringing in products from abroad.

The report interviews several of the new immigrants, all of whom site the radically high cost of Jewish education (which can reach tens of thousands of dollars per year) as the main reason for their move. NBN Executive VP Danny Oberman even boasted this fact in the article by asserting that the cost of [private] Jewish education in North America is one of the primary reasons people choose to immigrate, especially in recent years due to the global economic crisis.

Yet the article’s bottom line is that they moved for Zionist reasons, even though it is obvious this was not the primary reason, if a significant factor at all. In fact, the writer, himself a recent immigrant with NBN, asked some of the new immigrants whether they would have still moved if they could get a raise in their salary of several thousand dollars, and their immediate reply was “that’s a good question,” followed by the idea that they would try and purchase a place in Israel and live between Israel and their home in the United States.  In other words, Zionism is clearly not a factor.

So why does the writer insist on packaging it as a Zionist and Jewish endeavor when the entire report demonstrates that it is a practical economic consideration?  Second, why is NBN, a nonprofit that cooperates with the Jewish Agency and the State of Israel and is dedicated to Zionist “aliyah” (Jewish immigration), boasting that people are taking advantage of the Law of Return because they can save some money? Finally, one must see this story with cynical and somewhat resentful eyes, considering that many hard-working Israelis — born and bred here, who served in its army and have no where else to go — are amongst the working poor, not able to have the quality of life that these new immigrants are so eager to enjoy.