This past summer has seen many joyous scenes at Ben Gurion airport, western olim celebrating "returning home" to Israel to "live the dream" as the aliyah organisation Nefesh b Nefesh loves to put it in wonderful showbiz style. But among these scenes of joy there is a white elephant in the room. How many of these joyous individuals will still be in Israel in five years' time? The real story of western aliyah is not how many people make aliyah, but how many actually remain in Israel.
Member of Knesset Michael Oren has stated that up to 70 per cent of US and Canadian olim return to their countries of origin. The figure is probably similar for British olim. The reason for such poor retention rates is simple. Western olim are simply unable to get a decent job or even earn enough to make a living. A lot of highly educated western olim often with second degrees find themselves working in call centres, sales, as copyrighters on internet gambling sites, in Forex and even for loan shark companies. There are companies in Israel wholly staffed by western olim falsely representing themselves as being based in London, who make ''sales'' by lending money to the poor in the UK, individuals in such bad economic circumstances with such a bad credit rating that they are unable to borrow from UK banks. This is not what aliyah and Zionism should be about. Western olim simply do these jobs because of the lack of job opportunities available to them and because they are simply desperate to survive in a country that has a very high cost of living, both in terms of property prices and food costs.
So what can be done to alleviate the situation? For a start, the Israeli government is proposing to spend millions of dollars on various Jewish education initiatives in the Diaspora. Wouldn't it be wiser to spend some of that money at home on creating quality jobs for western olim? There are also numerous jobs in government such as at the foreign ministry, in teaching, at the universities, in the private sector, in the banks, which are mainly or wholly done in English. The government should be actively encouraging Israeli employers to provide olim with jobs in areas where English is mainly used, thus widening employment opportunities for them.
Leaders of western Jewry should make it clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government that while every Israeli Prime Minister and his ministers have an absolute prerogative to call on Jews from the west to make aliyah, more needs to be done to absorb and integrate western olim into the Israeli economy.
One of the paradoxes of French aliyah is that on the whole, it is being driven by antisemitism, yet many French Jews in Israel commute back and forth to France on a weekly basis for employment purposes or live and work in France for long periods of the year because they are unable to make a living in Israel, therefore, despite their aliyah, they are still dependent on the French government for getting antisemitism under control. The UJIA should also consider funding job creation projects specifically for British olim. A ''New Deal'' for British olim.
Nefesh b Nefesh does a great job in persuading people to come to Israel and tries to help olim find jobs, but it needs to stop sugar-coating aliyah and tell it how it is. It does Nefesh no credit when a Nefesh official says at a pre-aliyah meeting in London that a western oleh has a greater chance of getting a job than a native Israeli. For one thing, most western olim are limited in their employment prospects because they are not native Hebrew speakers. And their boast on their website that they have a 90 per cent retention rate calls into question the credibility of the organisation when every oleh knows this to be an "Alice in Wonderland statistic". It seems that Nefesh b Nefesh is more motivated by the aliyah numbers game, boosting to the Israeli government and their funders how many individuals they bring each year, but rather less concerned by how many actually stay.
Ariel Sharon once said that "aliyah is a central goal of the state of Israel". This goal should be updated to include the retention of western olim. A new approach is needed with regards to western aliyah. It is time to end the revolving door of aliyah. It is time to put a greater emphasis on retaining olim who have made aliyah and thus help ensure that western aliyah becomes a success story.
It is in the interests of Zionism and future olim who dream about making Israel their home that this indeed happens.