Africa/Middle East - Issue 81 - Magazine | Monocle

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View from Israel

Flying the nest

By daniella peled

In the immediate aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a clarion call to the Jewish diaspora. “To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home,” he wrote, backing up his message in person with passionate speeches at memorials to the dead in Paris.

French Jews were indeed reeling after the bloody attacks that left four of their number dead and they have suffered from rising anti-Semitism in recent years. But not everyone was pleased with Netahyahu’s offer.

According to Rinat Sela Tsal, a 48-year-old Hebrew teacher, “It was a stupid thing to say.Behind it was the idea that all Jewish people belong to Israel and if they live in France it’s only temporary. It was saying to French Jews, ‘You don’t fit in here.’ It didn’t serve the community.”

Sela Tsal’s perspective is particularly apposite as she is not only Jewish and French but also Israeli. Originally from a kibbutz, she moved to France nine years ago and lives very happily in a suburb outside Paris. She speaks Hebrew to her two children (they speak French to her) and holidays back at the kibbutz every summer but has no plans to return permanently.

Various Israeli ministries put the figure for emigration from Europe to the Jewish homeland between 500,000 and 750,000 but Jerusalem is famously sensitive about such affairs. Even the language related to immigration and emigration reflects this: the Hebrew term for a Jew moving to Israel is aliyah, or going up, whereas leaving is known as yeridah, or descending.

The situation is further complicated by many EU countries allowing for any Israeli with European origins to obtain citizenship. In 2012, a polling company found that at least 30 per cent of Israeli parents had begun the process of applying for foreign passports for their families. Some anti-Zionists see this as a sign that the entire Israeli project is about to crumble, although the phenomenon has more to do with facilitating business, travel and study within the EU than any impending fear of apocalypse. But some Zionists see it as a betrayal.

Omer Adulam, 38, who lives in Hackney in east London and runs a food business, emigrated to London 10 years ago. “People implied I was a traitor. There’s a small-town mentality, a weird judgement of people who don’t do what they’re supposed to do as Israeli Jews.”

This is changing, argues Sela Tsal. “There was a stigma many years ago but now it’s kind of trendy to live abroad and people are quite jealous.” Israel is claustrophobically small and travel to neighbouring countries is problematic if not impossible. The summer of 2011 saw the largest ever social protests in Israel, with mass rallies by people appalled at the soaring cost of living and lack of social justice. Those protests petered out but the resentment remains.

Berlin, one of the cheaper European capitals, has become particularly attractive. This has many Israeli government officials seething. In 2013, then-finance minister Yair Lapid criticised this new exodus. “A word to all those who are fed up and are leaving for Europe,” wrote Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor. “Forgive me if I’m a little impatient with those who are willing to throw away the only country the Jews have because it’s easier to live in Berlin.”

That’s a huge over-simplification say other Israeli expats. Amihai Grosz, 35, the principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic, moved to Berlin four years ago after an 18-year stretch in the prestigious Jerusalem Quartet. “Israel is a wonderful place and made me who I am but if you want to explore more in your life you have to move somewhere bigger,” he says. “For me it was clear I had to go but I didn’t desert Israel; I don’t feel I am missing any Zionist opportunities by leaving.”

Election watch


Type: Parliamentary
Date: 21-23 March (first stage)

Candidates: Dozens of parties will compete in the election. However, the party that came out on top last time Egypt tried this in 2011 – Freedom and Justice, aka the Muslim Brotherhood – will be conspicuous by its absence.

Issues: Egypt’s military-dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s (pictured) attempt to convince Egypt and – who knows? – maybe himself, that he isn’t a military dictator.

Monocle comment: Despite opposition such as Mohamed ElBaradei’s Constitution party, this parliament will be an extension of presidential power, not a brake on it.

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