Last year was the worst in two decades for immigration to Israel, new figures have revealed.
Only 16,500 Jews arrived in the country, 16 per cent less than in 2007. However, aliyah from Britain was slightly up, with 680 new immigrants in 2008.
The aliyah figures, the lowest since 1988, can be attributed to the Israeli government’s decision to cap the immigration of Ethiopian Falashmuras, whose Jewish ancestry is contested.
It is also the result of falling immigration from the former Soviet Union. The FSU is still the area in the world responsible for the highest levels of immigration to Israel, with 6,100 last year. But this is a far cry from the 1990s, when a million immigrants arrived following the fall of Communism.
There are still an estimated 1.5 million Jews in the FSU but the improved standard of living, assimilation and the elderly profile of these communities have combined to push aliyah figures down.
French immigration has also dipped; 2,000 were counted last year, compared to 2,700 in 2007. Analysts say that this is because fears over a wave of antisemitism have dissipated.
The only areas from which aliyah remains relatively strong are English-speaking countries. Apart from the UK, from which there was a slight increase, aliyah from North America, at 3,150, was also up, as were the numbers of newcomers from Australia and South Africa, which doubled from 178 in 2007 to 350 this year.
These continuing strong numbers can be attributed to the activities of Nefesh b’Nefesh, the aliyah support organisation that works in the US, UK and Canada. It has now signed an agreement with the Jewish Agency, giving it official responsibility for aliyah from North America.