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2017 Annual Assessment

This chapter analyzed and discussed major affinities of Israelis who live abroad. We focused on the size of this population, its demographic and socio-economic characteristics, as well as patterns of Jewish identity and attachment to Israel. We also provided insights, to the best of our knowledge never before researched and certainly most up to date, on the attitudes of Israelis toward their peers abroad, including with respect to the highly disputed issue of granting Israeli expats the right to vote in Knesset elections.

The empirical observations have five major implications for policy:
1) The cumulative number of Israelis abroad has increased over time. This means that there are more Israelis leaving the country than Israelis returning after being a way for a significant duration (at least one year). Israel’s emigration rate – the number of emigrants relative to the size of the population – is not exceptional compared to other developed countries.

Notably, about half the emigrants are people who were born outside of Israel, immigrated there, and later left – either returning to their country of origin or relocating to a third country. This figure has two important aspects. The first is that among native-born Israelis the number of emigrants is rather small. The second is that the number of foreign-born Jewish immigrants, who failed to acclimate to Israel and left the country, out of the number of total immigrants, is small, certainly in comparison to other immigrant receiving countries such as the United States.

These observations show that Israelis are often attached to their country, wish to stay, and that new immigrants are well absorbed. Still, given what we know about the major push factors for emigration, there are three areas of possible governmental intervention that might somewhat diminish the volume of emigration from Israel: improving the security situation and personal safety of the country’s inhabitants, limiting the involvement of the religious establishment in the daily life of Israelis, and increasing employment opportunities, especially for young people in white collar occupations.

2) Despite the relatively small overall number of emigrants, there is an over representation of young people. This age cohort is a major reservoir of Jewish population growth and generational replacement in Israel. It is likely that many of them will marry abroad and raise their children in their new country. Hence, the demographic loss for Israel is not only reflected in the number of those who left but also their children. Moreover, young people are the most productive sector of the work force and constitute a major part of the army reserves. It is also likely that they have parents living in Israel who, when elderly, would like to have their children and grandchildren close by; with their absence, the burden of caring for their elderly parents increasingly depends on local welfare services. The young profile of Israeli emigrants requires special attention to the needs and expectations of this age cohort in Israeli society, in areas such as higher education, employment, housing, and the educational system for their children in order to diminish the push factors of their emigration from Israel.

3) Many Israelis abroad are highly educated. Hence, they are concentrated in jobs in areas such as high-tech, research and development, and academia. Some acquired their human capital in studies and internships abroad. This group has a special potential to contribute to the prosperity of Israel. Concerted efforts should be made to stem the brain drain. For example, the budgets of Israeli institutions of higher education should be increased, allowing them to expand faculties. Similarly, positions for medical doctors in Israeli hospitals should be increased. Similarly, ways to increase investment in Israel’s high-tech industries should be explored in order to create additional jobs.

4) Israelis abroad are concentrated in large cities. They increase the local Jewish population there and the potential for expanding Jewish communal activities. Communal institutions, on their part, should be more open to embracing Israeli immigrants and involving them in organizational activities. At the same time, ways to prevent the erosion in their attachment to Israel should be explored. Such efforts, should be supported by the Israeli government (Ministry for Diaspora Affairs) and major institutions like the Jewish Agency and should include, among other things, ongoing social and cultural events, educational activities in Jewish pre-schools and day schools with strong Israeli orientations, dissemination of information about Israel, and engaging Israeli expats in Israel advocacy.25

But the focus should not just be directed at Israelis who are already abroad. Careful attention should be given to providing infrastructure and support for the elderly whose children live far away, as well as to their children who return to Israel. Obviously, this would also strengthen the attachment of Israeli expats to the country.

5) From time to time, proposals to grant Israelis abroad the right to vote in Israeli elections are raised. Some reject the idea outright, others suggest limiting voting rights to the first four or five years of being away, and still others advocate conferring voting rights irrespective of duration abroad.26 It appears that the majority of Israeli Jews are against providing Israeli expats with the right to vote. This objection crosses different segments of the Israeli society and crosses religious and political orientations.