The number of Russians arriving in Israel in the first quarter of 2015 was nearly 50 percent higher than that experienced during the corresponding period last year.
Rising Russian immigration to Israel is being driven partly by anxieties over Moscow’s increasingly authoritarian policies, a spokesman for the Russian Jewish community told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
The number of Russians arriving in Israel in the first quarter of 2015 was nearly 50 percent higher than that experienced during the corresponding period last year, according to an internal Jewish Agency report cited by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week. 1,515 Jews made the move between January and March, up from 1,016 in 2014.
“The political situation of the last years has become much more tight than it was before,” said Boruch Gorin, a senior figure in the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.
People are unsure of their future and do not know if Russia will “be closed as before in Soviet times,” he explained, adding that the pressure applied to opposition groups has been worrying to members of the Jewish community, many of whom are liberals.
Gorin also cited sanctions imposed by the West on Russia as a cause for immigration. Western sanctions over the Kremlin’s role in fomenting unrest in Ukraine, as well as declining oil revenues, have severely stressed Russia’s economy.
Despite the increased aliya figures, however, Gorin said that he knows of many people who have gone to Israel in order to obtain citizenship but have then returned to Russia and that, anecdotally, he believes that “the big part of this aliya is people of this kind.”
“That is a sign that they are ready to leave forever,” he said.
Gorin’s words offer a contrast with those of Rabbi Alexander Boroda, who heads the Federation of Jewish Communities, who told a crowd at a Limmud FSU conference last month that should President Vladimir Putin’s government collapse, it would pose a danger to the country’s Jews.
“The support for religious institutions is wider than in the United States and defense of Jews against manifestations of anti-Semitism is greater than in other European countries.
We do not have the privilege of losing what we have achieved and the support of the government for the community,” Boroda said at the time.
Ukrainian aliya is also up significantly due to Moscow’s expansionism in Ukraine.
The Israeli Embassy in Kiev is “packed with people wanting to leave,” said Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.
According to the JTA report, aliya from France decreased slightly in the first quarter of 2015, although neither the Jewish Agency nor French aliya activists seemed concerned. In January through March this year, 1,271 French Jewish immigrants arrived in Israel compared to 1,413 in 2014.
“In the case of French aliya, we saw French Jews’ interest in immigration triple in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, from a couple hundred daily calls to more than a thousand on some days. While it remains to be seen how much of that interest will translate into actual aliya – a process that can take many months, based on each family’s individual circumstances – we believe this year’s aliya figures for France will exceed last year’s and will only continue to grow for the foreseeable future,” said agency spokesman Avi Mayer.
Aliya usually spikes in the summer, he said, adding that what he called “slight variations” in numbers during the winter and spring are likely to be “statistically insignificant when considered as part of the annual total.”
Avi Zana of AMI, a French-Israeli organization promoting aliya, was likewise sanguine, telling the Post that the number of immigrants from France is “relatively stable” and that he did not foresee a significant change in the overall number coming this year.
There are also many prospective immigrants who are waiting on Jerusalem to take action on a recently announced initiative to ease the absorption of French-speaking Jews before they make the move, he added.
JTA contributed to this report.