A prominent professor of political science says that the latest data released on Wednesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics, is misleading.
Professor Zeev Hanine head of the Bar Ilan University Institute for the Euro-Asian Jewish Studies, part of Jewish Euro-Asian studies, said that the CBS referred to data collected up to 2020, and did not consider immigration from Ukraine, since the Russian invasion and the change in the Jewish character of communities who remained in the former Soviet Republics.
According to the CBS report, almost three out of four people who immigrated to Israel from post-Soviet states under the Law of Return in 2020 were not Jewish.
In an interview to Vesti, Ynet's Russian language sister organization, Hanine said most most of those arriving from Ukraine in the past year, were Jews. He also said that despite popular misconception that Jews living in the former Soviet republics, had little or no connection to Jewish lives, in recent years that has completely changed and Jewish life in those countries has thrived.
"Studies conducted over the years, including on the recently arrived immigration who have mixed roots, identified as Jewish in one form or another upon their arrival, and that identity has only increased over time," Hanine said.
The Law of Return allows Jews, their immediate family, and grandchildren to attain Israeli citizenship.
But Hanine is concerned that the push from the religious right and the rabbinical establishment have long urged to change the law which they said increases the non-Jewish population and endangers the country's Jewish character.
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 is as Jew 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 left Israel or passed away in the meantime, the number of non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, stands at about half a million people.
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 former 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."
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."