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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=14&datee=5/3/01&id=118579

Jewish Agency looks West for immigrants

By Yair Sheleg

The Jewish Agency has set a new strategic goal to increase immigration from Western countries, including Latin America, which have long been considered unpromising sources of future Israelis, says Agency Chairman Salai Meridor.

Meridor said the pool of emigrants from Russia and Ethiopia - the main sources in the last decade - has thinned.

In the last 12 years more than a million people immigrants to Israel, including 900,000 from the former Soviet Union and 40,000 from Ethiopia. But, says Meridor, these "reservoirs" are emptying.

"There are clear signs of a drop in immigration from the former Soviet Union, except for a brief jump in 1999-2000 because of domestic difficulties in Russia," says Meridor. "According to our projection, this year we'll consider it good if we get 40,000 immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States, and toward the end of this decade we'll only see about 20,000. In Ethiopia, the Falash Mura immigration will soon be over and that will end the immigration effort from there."

In Meridor's view, Israel's own demographics must be considered - "To preserve at least an 80 percent Jewish majority in the future, we need at least 40,000 immigrants a year in the coming years. On the assumption that the reservoirs of Russia and Ethiopia are drying up, there's a need to find other sources of Jewish immigration elsewhere."

In the best Zionist tradition, the first targets are places where Jews live in various degrees of distress. Meridor cites three possible locations. There is Argentina (and indeed the entire Latin American Jewish community), which is in an economic crisis, and is home to 200,000 Jews.

Next is South Africa where 80,000 Jews have been bearing the difficulties of the post-apartheid era with economic difficulties and rising crime making life difficult for whites.

The third community on Meridor's list is France. Half a million Jews live there, the third largest community after the U.S. and Israel. The Jewish Agency believes a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in France since the Intifada started could spur immigration. Some in the Jewish Agency even believe that the rising strength of the French Muslim community could add to Jewish insecurity there.

The agency has already started activities to encourage immigration from these three countries. Meridor says "we've greatly increased our activities in Argentina along with the government, increasing our investment to some $10 million. We've stepped up involvement in the Jewish schools we help finance, and sent out emissaries to neighborhoods with large concentrations of Jews. We assume there are Jews embarrassed to ask for our help and we have to reach them."

In South Africa the problem is more difficult, because while many Jews have been leaving, their preference is for Australia and New Zealand, because of the language, the climate and general economic conditions.

Nonetheless, both countries have already seen the introduction of the Jewish Agency's Na'ale program, in which youth precede their parents in making aliya to Israel. However, in France the large Jewish community is by no means in distress, as one of the leaders of the community, Haim Muzikent, pointed out.

"It's true we had problems last October but all the signs point to isolated incidents and no national-level anti-Semitism," he said. "The incidents were condemned right across the political spectrum, so France cannot be seen as an anti-Semitic state." Nonetheless, he says the community will be happy to cooperate with Jewish Agency efforts, "not from distress but because we believe immigration to Israel is very important for preserving Jewish identity."

Meridor, for his part, is not content with targeting these three countries. He wants an immigration campaign across the West - in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, and Australia.

He says "we have to bring back the Zionist dialogue, immigration in particular. Immigration can be seen as a Jewish value, common to all the religious movements. Immigration and absorption should resume their rightful place in the domestic Israeli dialogue, so that immigrants who do arrive feel wanted, and not be looked on as suckers."

As for getting the message across in Western communities that have never been asked to pack up and leave for Israel, Meridor says: "We don't have the luxury to forego the effort. There is a lot of openness in the religious leadership of all the movements to recognize immigration to Israel. It is difficult to contradict the argument that those who want Jewish continuity can promise it better there, than in Israel."

He said communities must be told that if Israel is critical for the Diaspora, and if Israel's demography is critical for Israel, then immigration is critical. "It is also important that the liberal views Western immigrants can bring to Israel should put down more roots there, and that can only happen with an increase in their numbers."

Meridor believes with the right information campaign and an enough investment, a significant increase in the numbers could be achieved - even from North America. ====

Agence France Presse

May 3, 2001, Thursday 5:03 AM, Eastern Time

Israel aims for new immigration from South Africa, Argentina, France

JERUSALEM, May 3

The Jewish Agency, the body charged with supervising immigration to Israel, hopes the next wave of newcomers will be from South America, Argentina and France, its president Salai Meridor said Thursday.

"We are concentrating our action on encouraging immigration to Israel by members of Jewish communities in developed western countries and South America, notably Argentina, South Africa and France," he told Israeli radio.

In the last 12 years, 900,000 immigrants came from the former Soviet Union and 40,000 from Ethiopia, but "these reservoirs are beginning to dry up," he said.

"We will consider ourselves satisified if 40,000 immigrants come from the former Soviet Union this year,"he said.

But the Jewish communities of Argentina and South Africa -- respectively 200,000 and 80,000-strong -- were likely sources because of the growing economic problems there, while the 700,000 Jews of France were, he said, "concerned by the rise of anti-semitism."

According to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 5.2 million Jews live in Israel, equivalent to 38 percent of the worldwide Jewish population and 81 percent of the Israeli population. There are six million Jews in the United States.

Last month Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview withe Jerusalem Post, "We need to bring another million Jews here, that needs to be a top priority of all governments."

"There are half a million Jews in Latin America, many of them in distress now, who need to be taken out of there", Sharon said.

However, he made no mention of the Jewish community in the United States, the largest in the world.


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