- JERUSALEM -- Jean Max emigrated
from Britain to Israel in 1970 as a committed Zionist. Her three children
were born and grew up in Israel. But since they reached adulthood, all
three have left for new lives in the United States.
- And Ms Max, now divorced, is planning to follow them.
Her American visa has arrived, she is going to Boston, where her daughter
lives, to look for work. If she finds it, she is leaving Israel after 33
- Ms Max and her family are part of a growing phenomenon
that has the Israeli political establishment worried. New figures from
the Immigration and Absorption Ministry stunned the establishment. Those
figures show 760,000 Israeli citizens now live abroad. The ministry says
its figures are an informal estimate, based on research by Israeli embassies
around the world.
- Even so, for a country of just 6,600,000, it is a large
number. But the big surprise was the growth in the number of Israelis living
abroad: in 2000, it was 550,000. That increase has undoubtedly been fuelled
by the suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinian militants over
the past three years, and by the severe recession into which the Israeli
economy has been plunged.
- But in few countries in the world are immigration and
emigration so politically charged as in Israel. At a recent conference
of American-Jewish supporters of Israel in Jerusalem, Ariel Sharon made
a speech that has become familiar during his three years as Prime Minister.
"We need you," he told the American delegates, urging them to
emigrate to Israel. He made the same appeal to visitors from the British-Jewish
community last year, and he has made it repeatedly.
- Israel is now said to be as crowded as India: those 6,600,000
people live in a small country. But the Israeli government continues to
encourage Jewish immigration, offering generous financial incentives to
new arrivals. The reason is that Israelis fear they are sitting on a demographic
- The results of a recent study by Israeli academics unnerved
even the right-wing supporters of Mr Sharon. The study found that by the
year 2020, in just 17 years, Palestinians will be the majority in the whole
area of Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. That raises the
possibility of the Israeli right's worst nightmare: that Palestinians might
stop demanding a state of their own and start asking for the vote. That
could spell the end of Israel's identity as a Jewish state, something most
Israelis want to keep.
- Israelis leave the country for many reasons. Ms Max says
she and her family did not decide to go because of the violence. "I'm
leaving because I've always wanted to," she says. "I came here
as a Zionist but found Israeli culture was very different from what I was
used to." She stayed, she says, first because she met her husband,
then for her children.
- But now her children have left, she wants to follow them.
Her children went for their own reasons. Only her eldest son, Adam, might
return if the suicide bombings stopped and the economic situation improved,
- But Ms Max's neighbours in Jerusalem did leave because
of the suicide bombings. "They said they were too frightened for their
children to stay here," Ms Max says. "They went back to Australia,
where they had come from. But they said it was very difficult to start
a new life."
- Because Ms Max's former husband is American, her children
have US citizenship. In Israel's immigrant society, many Israelis have
second passports, and can leave the country easily. In the past year, embassies
in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary have had long queues of second-generation
Israelis claiming their right to their parents' old citizenship.
- In the Nineties, a million immigrants arrived in Israel
from the former Soviet Union, swelling the population and slowing the rate
at which the Palestinian population was overtaking it. But today, more
Jewish people from the former Soviet Union are emigrating to Germany than
Israel, and some who arrived in the Nineties have left, frustrated by not
getting jobs to match their qualifications. In a country full of doctors,
a medically qualified migrant from the former Soviet Union can end up a
- A new situation is beginning to emerge in which some
Palestinians are suggesting demographics is their greatest weapon, and
that they should use it against Israel. "Sharon is building the wall
because he wants to squeeze Palestinians into cantons on half of the West
Bank," Professor Ali Jirbawi, of the West Bank's Bir Zeit University,
says. "They want to call half of the West Bank 'Palestine' so they
can squeeze the Palestinians into as small a space as possible and allay
their own fears of the demographic effect in the future."
- Professor Jirbawi is advocating that the Palestinians
should set a six-month time limit on negotiations for a two-state solution.
"We should say we accept a two-state solution, but that it means going
back to the 1967 borders, and a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian
state. We should give them six months. If there is no decision, we should
say Israel, by its own choice, doesn't want a two-state solution. If Israel
wants a one-state solution we accept; but 20 years from now, we're going
to ask for one person, one vote."
- That is a nightmare scenario for many Israelis. Professor
David Newman, of Ben Gurion University, says: "If you look at the
drive for a two-state solution in the past, it was always to prevent conflict.
What is becoming more prevalent is that people are saying we have to do
it because if we don't we're going to end up with a bi-national state.
- "If you look at all the surveys of public opinion,
the one issue that unites the Jewish population of Israel is that more
than 90 per cent say they want to retain a Jewish majority. The problem
of the right wing is that they want a Greater Israel including the occupied
territories, without any withdrawal. The irony is by doing that they invite
a bi-national state."
- The families who returned home
- Charles Lenchner realised how bad things had become in
Israel when he asked his daughter, Esther, 8, what her favourite television
show was. "She said her favourite programme was [the cartoon] Dexter's
Lab," Mr Lenchner said. "When I asked why she said she would
like to have a laboratory where she could make toys that were really bombs
so that Arab children could take them home and blow up their families."
- Mr Lenchner, his mother and his sister moved to Tel Aviv
from Pittsburgh in 1975 when he was aged six, a move spurred by his mother's
Zionist views. He returned to the US 25 years later, confronted by evidence
such as his daughter's comments of the hatred that exists in Israel and
the occupied territories. "I was just so demoralised by the absence
of hope," said Mr Lenchner, 34, who now lives in Washington. His daughter
still lives in Israel with her mother. "I am now trying to get her
to come to the US," he said. - Andrew Buncombe
- Anna Kozakova, a theatre producer, lived in Israel from
1991 to 1996 with her now-estranged husband, Mikhail Kozakov, who is one
of Russia's leading theatrical actors.
- The couple left Moscow because Russian theatre fell into
total ruin as the Soviet Union collapsed. They also feared the rise of
anti-Semitism in the new Russia, and went to find a better life in Israel,
where they lived for five years.
- Two factors convinced them to return: life in Russia
grew much better and the Moscow theatre revived impressively. Also, life
in Israel proved to be unsatisfactory.
- She said: "Israel didn't offer any real chances
for [my husband] to develop his creativity. The situation in Moscow improved
greatly and Mikhail began receiving very attractive invitations to work.
It was because of the work situation, not because of politics or anything
else, that we decided to return. I have no regrets about that choice".
- Fred Weir
- Gideon and Lynn Seligman abandoned the life they had
built together in western Galilee and returned to Britain disillusioned
with the lack of political and moral leadership on both sides of the conflict.
"In the foreseeable future, I can see no resolution to the mess. The
politics and nature of Israeli society are becoming more right wing and
racist," said Mr Seligman, 40, from his new home in Stockport, Greater
Manchester, yesterday. The couple moved from London in 1990 feeling optimistic
and excited at the prospect of working on a kibbutz in northern Israel.
During the 12 years they lived there the couple had two children, Ella,
now aged 12, and Maya, eight. The decision to return home in June last
year was made all the more difficult because their community was still
growing and the family had made many friends. "Living in Israel you
see the other side of the mountain, but my feelings of hope gradually gave
way to despair," he said. - Genevieve Roberts
- © 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd