Three out of four post-Soviet immigrants in 2020 weren't Jewish, data show

Report comes after leaders of emerging right-wing government expressed intention to amend sensitive Law of Return and reopen question of who counts as Jewish in the eyes of the state

Kobi Nachshoni|
Almost three out of four people who immigrated to Israel from post-Soviet states under the Law of Return in 2020 were not Jewish, new data published Wednesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) shows.
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  • The Law of Return allows Jews, their immediate family, and grandchildren to attain Israeli citizenship.
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    עולים אוקראינים יורדים מ ה מטוס  בנמל התעופה נתבג בן גוריון עליה יהדות ה תפוצות משבר מלחמה אוקראינה רוסיה
    עולים אוקראינים יורדים מ ה מטוס  בנמל התעופה נתבג בן גוריון עליה יהדות ה תפוצות משבר מלחמה אוקראינה רוסיה
    Ukrainian immigrants arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, March 6, 2022
    (Photo: AP)
    The Knesset’s Research and Information Center tabled a comprehensive report on immigration from post-Soviet countries since the fall of the USSR in the early 1990s after the leaders of the emerging right-wing government expressed their intention to amend the sensitive law and reopen the question of who counts as Jewish in the eyes of the State of Israel.
    CBS data show that over three decades the percentage of Jews among immigrants dropped steadily, from 93% in 1990 to only 28% in 2020.
    A total of 1,124,822 people immigrated to Israel during that period — 64% of them Jewish according to Jewish law, that is, either born to a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism.
    The number of non-Jewish immigrants was 402,797, and together with their descendants born in Israel, and excluding those who have passed away in the meantime or left Israel, the number of non-religious immigrants and ex-Soviet citizens in Israel stands at about half a million people.
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    הילדים שעלו על הטיסה
    הילדים שעלו על הטיסה
    Jewish Ukrainian orphan fleeing Ukraine war arrives at Ben Gurion Airport, March 6, 2022
    (Photo: Sivan Hilaie)
    Dr. Netanel Fisher, an immigration researcher on whose research the report is largely based, said that the steady decline in the percentage of Jewish immigrants from post-Soviet states is mainly driven by the decrease in the number of Jewish people living there.
    "Over the years, most of the Soviet Union’s Jews moved to other places - most of them to Israel and a minority to other countries, mainly the U.S. and Germany," he explained.
    "In the current situation, the potential for immigration, that is, the majority of those entitled to immigrate from former Soviet Union states, are descendants of Jews — children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — who also immigrate to Israel.
    Looking forward, and according to this trend, the absolute majority of immigrants from the former Soviet states in the coming years, mainly from Russia and Ukraine, will be non-Jews."
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    ד"ר נתנאל פישר
    ד"ר נתנאל פישר
    Dr. Netanel Fisher
    (Photo: Oren Senans)
    Fisher claims that the data reveal a "disturbing reality" in which the Law of Return has stopped fulfilling its historical role of bringing Jews to Israel and must be amended in his opinion.
    However, he notes "the non-Jewish immigrants are part of the extended Jewish family, descendants of Jews, the 'seed of Israel', people who came to this land, settled in it and contribute to it - every effort must be made, within the limits of Halakha [Jewish Law], to increase the number of converts in Israel."
    "The right way, in my opinion, is to promote a package deal, the main point of which is the reduction of non-Jewish immigration on the one hand, and the opening of the gates of conversion on the other. This is the right and necessary way to preserve Jewish immigration and respect our non-Jewish family members."
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