The New Immigrants to Israel Aren’t Fleeing Persecution but Seeking Opportunity

March 31 2021

While Zionism’s founders certainly sought to create a state where Jews could live without the threat of anti-Semitism, they also embraced a positive vision of a place that would be far more than a refuge for the persecuted—and this was as true of Theodor Herzl as it was of Ahad Ha’am. This latter part of the Zionist vision, perhaps, is being realized by a recent wave of immigrants from prosperous North America, where anti-Semitism is far less of a threat than in Europe or elsewhere. Emily Benedek writes:

[These] immigrants to Israel . . . are going not out of personal fear, nor only to protect an embattled homeland, but because they see Israel (and IDF service) as a way to improve and expand their lives. Many of these new olim do not fit the earlier picture of vulnerable Jews from countries like France or the former Soviet Union, fleeing imminent threats or declining fortunes at home. Nor are they primarily motivated by religious belief. [Rather], they’re moving to Israel because they believe it can offer a unique place to unlock their human potential and create a robust future in a vital and growing society.

In fact, COVID-19 unleashed an unprecedented jump in interest in aliyah from all ages around the world. In July, the Jewish Agency’s chairman, Isaac Herzog, announced that he expected a startling 250,000 immigrants over the next five years, 15,000 more per year than pre-pandemic numbers—a 42-percent increase. But what surprised the Jewish Agency even more was the unexpected jump in calls requesting information about aliyah from residents of Western countries in particular, up 31 percent. The next step in the immigration process, actually opening a file with the Jewish Agency, saw a 91-percent increase from Western countries, and a 400-percent increase from North America, mainly driven by interest from residents of New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and Ontario.

Yael Katsman, vice president for public relations at Nefesh b’Nefesh, which facilitates aliyah from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, said in an interview that . . . the massive disruptions caused by the pandemic are providing a new freedom. Katsman said people tell her they are finally doing what they always knew they wanted to do. “Basically, COVID-19 has readjusted people’s priorities and plans—and working remotely and keeping up with family via Zoom has shifted their ideas of where they need to live.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Aliyah, American Jewry, Coronavirus, IDF

Israel’s Friendship with Iraqi Kurds, and Why Iran Opposes It

In May 2022, the Iraqi parliament passed a law “criminalizing normalization and establishment of relations with the Zionist entity,” banning even public discussion of ending the country’s 76-year state of war with Israel. The bill was a response to a conference, held a few months prior, addressing just that subject. Although the gathering attracted members of various religious and ethnic groups, it is no coincidence, writes Suzan Quitaz, that it took place in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan:

Himdad Mustafa, an independent researcher based in Erbil, to whom the law would be applied, noted: “When 300 people gathered in Erbil calling for peace and normalization with Israel, the Iraqi government immediately passed a law criminalizing ties with Israel and Israelis. The law is clearly aimed at Kurds.” . . . Qais al-Khazali, secretary-general of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Coordination Framework), a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militia, slammed the conference as “disgraceful.”

Himdad explains that the criminalization of Israeli-Kurdish ties is primarily driven by “Kurd-phobia,” and that Kurd-hatred and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand.

One reason for that is the long history of cooperation Israel and the Kurds of Iraq; another is the conflict between the Kurdish local government and the Iran-backed militias who increasingly control the rest of the country. Quitaz elaborates:

Israel also maintains economic ties with Kurdistan, purchasing Kurdish oil despite objections from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. A report in the Financial Times discusses investments by many Israeli companies in energy, development sectors, and communications projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to providing security training and purchasing oil. Moreover, in a poll conducted in 2009 in Iraqi Kurdistan, 71 percent of Kurds supported normalization with Israel. The results are unsurprising since, historically, Israel has had cordial ties with the Kurds in a generally hostile region where Jews and Kurds have fought against the odds with the same Arab enemy in their struggles for a homeland.

The Iranian regime, through its proxies in the Iraqi government, is the most significant source of Kurd-phobia in Iraq and the driving factor fueling tensions. In addition to their explicit threat to Israel, Iranian officials frequently threaten the Kurdish region, and repeatedly accuse the Kurds of working with Israel.

Read more at Jersualem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Iraq, Israel-Arab relations, Kurds