- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2003

JERUSALEM — Alarm over emigration levels is growing among Israel’s political leadership as the country’s Jews seek to escape the violence of the Palestinian uprising and deepening recession.

The government wants to bring another million Jews to Israel by 2010. Yet figures released by the ministry responsible for helping new immigrants show that an estimated 760,000 Israelis are living abroad, up from 550,000 in 2000.

Just 23,000 people are expected to move to Israel this year, the lowest figure since 1989.

Tzipi Livni, who heads the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, has described immigration as being in a “tailspin.”

Christine Shalev, 36, who has a 3-year-old daughter, made the decision to join the exodus when her best friend left for Canada two months ago.

“Israel is falling apart and enough is enough,” said Ms. Shalev, who works for a delivery service in Tel Aviv. “I feel trapped here but I hope in Canada I can find my freedom.”

Hard-line Israeli politicians are eager to boost the Jewish population to underpin their claim for more land.

Yet Interior Ministry figures show that a quarter of the Americans who have come to Israel since 1989 have left.

On Internet bulletin boards such as Janglo, aimed at English speakers in Jerusalem, many emigrants are selling off possessions before they leave the country.

Demographers have warned that at the present rate, Jews will become a minority in Israel and the occupied territories within 20 years.

Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, a government body responsible for bringing Jews to Israel, admits the scale of the challenge facing the government.

“There is big concern about what is happening,” he said. “This is why finding a peaceful resolution is so important. At the moment people do not see a solution and this is the tragedy. The insecurity drives them crazy. It’s like Russian roulette — you don’t know when it is going to hit you.”

Emigrants are reluctant to talk about their departure because Jewish immigration to Israel is the cornerstone of Zionism, the Jewish national movement.

The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once described Jews who emigrated as the “lowliest of parasites.”

Many families head for Canada. So far 6,000 Israelis have moved there this year, double last year’s total.

One couple, who did not wish to be identified, are leaving even though they only returned to Israel in June after three years in New York. Third-generation, university-educated Israelis, their grandparents were pioneers in building the state.

“I feel betrayed,” said Hila, 37, whose husband, Dror, is also 37. “I don’t want to raise my children in such a brutal society. … My grandparents had such high ideals. What has become of Israel makes me so sad and bitter.”

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