Should Israel be seeking to bolster its Jewish talent, it should focus its attention on Brazil, a new study suggests, where economic hardship and security issues are propelling young Jews to emigrate.
The research, conducted at the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at the Technion, in Haifa, focused on 12 cities with a significant Jewish diaspora population. They are located in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, France, Ukraine and Russia. Brazil’s Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which are home to most of the country’s Jews, are the most promising in terms of encouraging emigration to Israel, the paper said.
The Jews living in the two Brazilian cities “are tight-knit, young, connected to Israel and less assimilated [than other Jewish communities in the world],” the 55-page study said, as cited by Haaretz. “In addition, these communities have a relatively high share of professionals, like high-tech experts and doctors, whose skills are in high demand in Israel.”
In the past decade, Brazilian Jews have been among the top-10 worldwide most likely to “make aliyah” – that is, to emigrate to Israel, one of the tenets of Zionism – though the numbers of Jews in countries such as Russia, Ukraine, France, and Canada who’ve done so have eclipsed them, according to data from the Jewish Agency for Israel. Nonetheless, since 2015, there has been a sharp increase in Brazilian immigration, from about 200 to 600 people per year. Even the pandemic didn’t prove much of an obstacle, with 522 Jews having left Brazil for Israel in 2020.
Brazil’s harsh Covid-19 crisis is not mentioned in the study, which was based on data collected between 2018 and 2020. But the authors say the dire economic situation, and concerns for personal safety amid surging crime rates and an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents have left many Jews questioning their future in their home country.
“The Brazilian-Jewish community should be seen as having significant potential for aliyah and should even be marked as the preferred target of a ‘focused aliyah’ policy,” the authors write, outlining policy changes that could facilitate immigration from Brazil.
Neighboring Argentina, on the other hand, does not have a high potential for aliyah, the study said. Among the reasons is its much higher rate of mixed marriages compared to Brazil, where Jewish people tend to marry among their own community.
Since its creation, Israel has been trying to attract Jewish migrations from the diaspora to strengthen itself with both resource and talent. The rise in immigration from less assimilated communities like that in Brazil coincided with Israel’s rightward drift under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Among other indicators of that drift, it amended its basic law in 2018 to stress its Jewish nationhood and downgrade the status of the Arab language.
That widened the rift between Israel and liberal-leaning Jewish communities in countries such as the US, however. The research on how to better funnel Brazilian Jews to Israel was seen by critics of the country as the latest example of its pursuit of an ethnostate.
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The study didn’t include the US and Canada because the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is mandated to handle aliyah, has handed over the outreach programs in those English-language nations to another non-profit organization.
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