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2017 Annual Assessment

Despite a lack of uniformity in the definitions of who is an Israeli emigrant, the use of different sources, and regional variations in data quality and comprehensiveness, there is a significant consensus among scholars and official institutes alike that approximately half a million Israeli Jews are living abroad permanently (Table 1).2 This estimate includes native-born Israelis as well as Jews who were born abroad, immigrated to Israel, and later either returned to their country of origin or moved to a new country. In addition, there are several tens of thousands of children born abroad to Israeli citizens.

Table 1. The Number of Israelis Abroad, 1989-2015
Year Number
1989 300,000
1999 480,000
2009 542,000
2015 575,000

Sources: Cohen, 2011; The Knesset, Center for Research and Information, 2012; CBS, Statistical Abstracts3

Similar to other immigration absorbing countries, some immigrants to Israel do not adjust to their new society. In fact, slightly more than half of the Israelis abroad were not born in Israel, but rather are immigrants who returned home or re-migrated to a new country.4 The rate of native-born Israelis who reside abroad out of the total native-born Israeli population is about 6 percent. This rate is only slightly higher than the average for OECD countries, but lower than that of countries such as New Zealand, Switzerland, Austria, and the UK. Emigration rates for the foreign-born are significantly lower than that among immigrants in the United Kingdom or the United States.5

Despite some fluctuations, emigration rates (number of emigrants relative to the size of the Israeli Jewish population), until recently tended to decline from 2.1 per thousand inhabitants in 2010 to 1.9 in 2014.6 In other words, the rate of emigration was slower than the pace of population growth in Israel. Likewise, in those five years, the migration balance i.e., the differential between the number of Israelis who moved abroad and lived there continuously for a year or more and the number of Israelis who returned after an uninterrupted stay abroad of a year or more, was significantly lower as compared to the previous quintile (Figure 2.1). However, data released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics7 just a few days before this publication went to print, show that in 2015 migration balance of Israelis (differential between departures and returns) once again increased to 7.8 thousand which is the highest since 2008. Likewise, emigration rate of “Jews and Others” in 2015 was rather high of 2.5. Notably, about one-fourth of the recent emigrants who are defined “Jews and Other” belong to the “Other” group, namely people who are not Halachically Jewish. Overall, given the composition of the Israeli population (high proportion of foreign-born) and the tense security conditions in the region it can be asserted that the rate of Israelis leaving their country is rather low.8

Figure 2.1: Departures and Returns of Israelis Staying Abroad Continuously for One Year or More and Migration Balance (In Thousand)

According to different estimates, between one-half and two-thirds of Israeli emigrants have settled in the United States. Other major concentrations of Israelis are found in Canada, Australia, the UK, France, and more recently also in Germany (Figure 2.2). Likewise, several tens of thousands of the Soviet Jews who moved to Israel and hence hold Israeli citizenship, returned to their countries of origin.9

Figure 2.2: The Geographic Distribution of Native-Born Israeli Jews Who Live Abroad, by Major Areas and Countries (Percentages)

The extent of emigration is strongly tied to Israel’s security and economic situation. This is reflected in jumps in periods such as after the Yom Kippur War or during the peak of the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) at the beginning of this century. However, looking at their demographic and socio-economic characteristics, it is revealed that Israeli emigrants are not spread evenly across their areas of settlement.