If, when and why to expect massive aliyah to Israel

The arrival of more than 200 French Jews who made aliyah, at Ben Gurion International Airport on July 20, 2016. (Photo: Flash 90)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog recently called on Israel’s prime minister to prepare Israel for large-scale aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) from the United States due to increased anti-Semitic incidents there.

Herzog has since backtracked somewhat on his statement, adding that the U.S. government can be trusted to deal with such incidents. But his statement raised the question as to whether Israel is prepared for accelerated emigration from the U.S., home to over 7 million Jews, according to some statistics.

France with the third largest Jewish population in the world (more than half a million), has already experienced the unexpected: 2015 saw a largely unanticipated wave of immigration to Israel from the French republic, with 7,835 olim (immigrants) arriving on Israel’s shores after a spike in anti-Semitic incidents. Numbers, however, dropped by around 40 percent in 2016 after the French government substantially increased security for its Jewish community and terrorism within Israel increased. Nevertheless, two separate polls have shown that 200,000 French Jews are actively considering aliyah.

Prior to 2015, expectations of large-scale aliyah from affluent Western nations — home to the majority of the diaspora — were low. A significant number of French Jews moved to the United Kingdom, home to over 300,000 Jews. Prime Minister Theresa May expressed shock at recent incidences of “disgusting” anti-Semitism, saying that she never expected to see the day when Jews would be afraid to live there and accusing the British opposition Labor Party of “turning a blind eye.”

Herzog’s initial warning about American aliyah was met with harsh criticism from Jonathan Sarna, an American Jewish history professor at Brandeis University who accused him of not really understanding the U.S. Jewish situation. He argued that, unlike France, the U.S. is not experiencing physical attacks amid the dramatic rise in attacks, according to the Anti-Defamation League 2016 analysis.

The Kantor Center’s more global 2016 report found that, “On the one hand, recent developments brought down the number of violent anti-Semitic cases perpetrated against Jews and Jewish sites, and on the other the nature of the violent cases have become more cruel, and the growing variety of verbal and visual anti-Semitic expressions, mainly on social media, became more brutal and insulting.”

According to the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism (CFCA) 2016 report “The trend of escalation of violent anti-Semitism activity has continued.” Clearly a rising trend in non-violent attacks on Jews can escalate into physical attacks.

Of course, anti-Semitism is not the only actual or potential cause of aliyah. Other reasons include Zionism, economic troubles or a perceived societal decay in one’s country of origin. Wars and financial market factors that have global implications could also be a catalyst for or against immigration.

While many Jews in the West have enjoyed relatively stable socio-economic situations, expanding economies and democracies, a number of recent events have begun to shake things up. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, its ensuing wars, the stock market crashes of 2008 and 2015, the Arab Spring, Brexit in England and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, stability appears to be the exception, a factor that might cause Jewish residents to seek shelter in Israel.

Not only is the cause of aliyah important, but also the rate. In the case of French Jews leaving Algeria due to violence in 1962, 100,000 moved to France in a period of just a few weeks, along with 900,000 non-Jews, many leaving their possessions behind. Mass immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union has been more gradual, bringing well over 1 million Jews to Israel over almost 30 years.

So what should we be expecting? Whether the process is gradual or sudden, scripture is clear as to what is surely coming: Aliyah will take place, in due course, from all nations where Jews have found temporary residence.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth –
 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”
Isaiah 43: 5-7

Secondly, we can expect the retune of all Jews to Israel, according to scripture. It may be hard to imagine, but can be visualized by faith:

“I will surely gather all of you, Jacob;
    I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.
I will bring them together like sheep in a sheepfold,
    like a flock in its pasture;
    the place will throng with people.”
Micah 2:12