Jewish Immigration to Israel Drops Sharply

Immigration to Israel (search) has fallen sharply this year, a Cabinet minister said Monday, as the government took a step to try to reverse the trend by reinstating housing grants for new arrivals.

Only 7,692 immigrants came to Israel during the first five months of the year — putting it on a trend for a yearlong total far below the 2002 total of 35,168 — according to figures from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption (search).

Immigration is in a "tailspin," said the minister, Tzipi Livni. "It's impossible to remain indifferent to what's going on." She said her ministry needed to examine the attitudes of potential immigrants and find ways to make Israel more attractive to them.

A main factor depressing immigration figures is nearly three years of Palestinian-Israeli violence (search). Many potential immigrants have had second thoughts because of the frequent images of terror attacks inside Israel, and the unrest has contributed to a serious economic recession with high unemployment.

In 2001, there were 44,633 new arrivals in Israel. During the peak years of 1990 and 1991, almost 377,000 immigrants came to Israel, most from the former Soviet Union.

"I fully believe that immigration will define the strength of the state of Israel. We have to find out the reasons for what's happening and focus our resources to bring in more immigrants."

Jewish immigration to Israel is the cornerstone of Zionism, the Jewish national movement. About half the people living in Israel today were born abroad.

Mike Rosenberg, director of the Jewish Agency, the body responsible for bringing Jews to Israel, said that besides Israel's difficult economic and security situations, administrative measures, like cutting housing grants, have cut into immigration.

"Newspapers in countries like Argentina gave great prominence to the mortgage cutbacks," he said.

On Monday, Israeli officials reinstated housing grants for immigrants that had previously been cut, the prime minister's office said.

The government also set up a task force to "study the needs of immigrants and propose an optimum package of benefits," the statement said.