Over the past decade, and especially during the past three years, interest in Aliyah among French Jews has grown. The Israeli government, which identified this trend, has passed four government resolutions on this issue: resolutions 1736 and 1737 (June 22, 2014); Resolution 2225 (November 23, 2015); and Resolution 2446 (February 15, 2015). The latter was accompanied by a NIS 180 million budgetary commitment to encourage Aliyah from France, Belgium and the Ukraine.2 The governmental intervention encompassed four complementary measures:(1) encouraging Aliyah; (2) establishing a committee to remove bureaucratic barriers, including those pertaining to professional licensing and registration; (3) improving the absorption process; and (4) creating an independent public benefit corporation to coordinate the efforts.
Implementation of these resolutions substantially raised immigrant numbers: from 3,297 in 2013 to 7,835 in 2015. This increase was largely made possible by the effective cooperation of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and the World Zionist Organization, and coordination with other government entities. However, the jump in French Aliyah was short-lived; despite the efforts of the Israeli government and other relevant bodies, there has been a slowdown in the first eight months of 2016: 3.452 olim compared to 5.930 during the first eight months of 2015. Should this trend continue, 2016 will witness a 40 percent decline in French immigrant numbers compared to 2015.
The reason for this slowdown is not entirely clear, but a number of possibilities have been raised: (1) The French prime minister’s commitment to protect the community, and the measures taken to contain anti-Semitism; (2) Diminished ideology-based Aliyah (i.e., those most committed to the Zionist idea have already immigrated to Israel); (3) Increased terrorism and a weaker sense of personal security in Israel.
Conversations with Aliyah candidates and shlichim (emissaries) working with them pointed to yet another factor behind the slowdown: a sense of disappointment with the Israeli absorption system. French Jews considering Aliyah, fear a fate similar to that endured by some of their relatives. A chief concern is that they will find it difficult to work in their chosen fields, or to earn at the level to which they have become accustomed. For these reasons some French Jews are delaying Aliyah, or even moving to countries other than Israel.
An in-depth assessment of the situation reveals that once the initial absorption period in Israel has ended, along with its accompanying support and guidance structures, many new immigrants are left feeling that their Hebrew is inadequate, that they face barriers to suitable employment, and that their children have trouble making their way in the Israeli school system. The sense of disappointment is reflected in the fact that, for the first time in the history of French Aliyah, immigrants have started organizing under an umbrella organization. The organization, called Qualita, aims to raise Israeli public awareness of the difficulties and obstacles faced by French olim and to call attention to areas where state intervention is urgently needed.3