'Boost aliyah to balance Arab growth'

Duvedani of the WZO

Duvedani of the WZO

Aliyah from the UK, after slumping to barely above 300 in 2003, has been steadily rising throughout the decade and is set to exceed 800 for a second successive year in 2011.

But it is still not high enough, says the chairman of the World Zionist Organisation, Avraham Duvdevani.

The veteran Zionist was visiting London over the weekend to launch a new WZO project to encourage more immigration to Israel from the West, called Habayta, "Coming Home".

Of the average 19, 000 annual olim to Israel in recent years, 9,000 have come from the former Soviet Union and 2,000 from Ethiopia.

"To have less than 10,000 a year from the Western world is a terrible situation," he said. "It puts Israel in danger.

"Every year the [population] gap between the Arab citizens of Israel and the Jewish citizens of Israel is closing by 60,000 a year. So we need 60,000 Jews a year to come to freeze the gap between us and the Arabs."

Habayta, which will be rolled out across the diaspora but is being piloted in Britain, will be run in conjunction with the Zionist Federation. Its mission is to promote aliyah particularly to the 20-45 age group. In a break with the past, it will be largely carried out by local volunteers rather than Israeli emissaries.

Since being elected head of the WZO, Mr Duvdevani has been trying to revive the fortunes of the organisation. The WZO's budget had dropped to $12 million a year and most of its activities had been transferred to the Jewish Agency; the WZO is composed of representatives of Zionist political parties and religious movements, while the Agency is the arm of diaspora philanthropists.

But Mr Duvdevani has raised the WZO's income to $27 million a year, thanks to a cash injection of from the Israeli government.

    Last updated: 12:57pm, November 24 2011