Coronavirus could trigger a significant increase in Jews seeking to make aliyah to Israel, the Jewish Agency and Nefesh b'Nefesh have said.
Isaac Herzog, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, told a Knesset committee on Monday that Israel could expect to see some 250,000 new Jewish immigrants over the next three to five years – a marked increase on the 30,000 that it currently receives every year.
The Jewish Agency is the chief organisation that facilitates immigration to Israel from the diaspora and diaspora-Israel ties.
Nefesh b’Nefesh, which assists immigration from North America and the UK, reported that it had received 1,350 aliyah applications in June – compared to 399 in the same period last year.
The organisation added that it had received 25,435 calls requesting additional information about the aliyah process, versus only 5,349 in June 2019.
Mr Herzog, giving evidence to the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorbtion and Diaspora Affairs Committee, said that a perception that Israel had handled the coronavirus crisis better than many other countries – something which has now come under pressure - antisemitism and a desire to be closer to family already in Israel explained the upticks.
He also cited a perception that Israel had a robust health system and social safety-net as contributing factors.
Jewish Brazilians were among the communities that had seen the greatest increases in interest since the coronavirus pandemic started, Mr Herzog stated.
In 2019, 750 Brazilian families had started the immigration process, whereas the Jewish Agency was expecting that this year’s tally would reach over 1,200.
Brazil is the second most affected country in the world and has widely been perceived as having bungled its response to the pandemic.
At a Wednesday press conference, Mr Herzog said that the Jewish Agency estimated that 2,200 Jews had died from coronavirus outside of North America and the former Soviet Union.
Including North America and the former Soviet Union, Mr Herzog stated that: “We can assume all in all that there were thousands of Jews who unfortunately passed away in the crisis”.
Mr Herzog said that communities in the southern cone of Latin America, the Soviet Union, as well as France, Austria, South Africa, Poland and Italy had been among those “severely affected”.
He also added that the pandemic had dealt a blow to the financial stability of many communities and that the Jewish Agency had provided almost $10 million in interest-free loans to 23 Jewish communities in Latin America, Europe, the former Soviet Union, New Zealand and South Africa – and that it was considering a further $12 million in applications for support.
“As Israel has received both emergency and ongoing aid from Jews in North America and worldwide for many years, this crisis represented Israel’s golden opportunity to support overseas Jewish communities,” Mr Herzog said.