Photo: Shalom Bar Tal
Ariel Rubinstein
Photo: Shalom Bar Tal

Don’t pay them to return

Plan to lure former Israelis back on 60th Independence Day could backfire

Our ministers have an urge to come up with ideas that would make us overjoyed on the occasion of Israel’s 60th Independence Day. The result is annoying and needless plans, including the last one launched by Ministers Ronnie Bar-On and Jacob Edery under the banner: “Coming back home on Israel’s 60th.”


We are talking about significant tax breaks for Israelis who lived abroad for a particularly long period of time. Those who lived overseas for at least 10 years will be granted the status of “returning citizen classified as a new oleh for income tax purposes.”


The finance minister is elated: “The reform was formulated in the aims of boosting dwindling immigration to Israel and prompting the return of some of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living abroad.” Meanwhile, the immigration absorption minister offers some self-praise: “The reform constitutes a genuine revolution that for the first time combines moral worthiness and Aliyah based on Zionistic motives with economic feasibility.”


A wise immigration policy results in a positive selection of immigrants. For example, Israeli society’s secret in the pre-independence era was that the immigrants who arrived in Israel through self sacrifice and for ideological reasons were the good guys (by the way, those are the parents of many of us.)


The immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1970s upgraded Israeli society by bringing here brave Jews who truly believed in the Zionist idea. Israeli society needs people with commitment and positive qualities. I find it difficult to believe that those who will come to Israel because tax breaks made their arrival “economically feasible” are what we need around here.


Some of my good friends are former Israelis living abroad. I do not hold a grudge against them and they are my friends even though they left Israel. They have the right to leave, just like it’s my right to stay in Israel. None of them will be returning to Israel because of these benefits. Yet I know a few people who will be encouraged to leave Israel because of this plan.


Why not help Israelis who live here?

What will a young Israeli who rejected tempting offers overseas feel in the face of the preferential treatment accorded to former Israelis? If he is a saintly person, he will feel like a serial sucker. If he is still debating, here is something that would enable him to overcome the hesitations: Try the international option. If you don’t like it, come to visit us on holidays. And if not, then on the State’s 70th Independence Day (which is exactly 10 years from now) you will be granted even greater benefits in the face of “growing emigration and dwindling immigration figures.”


The immigration absorption minister says that the plan will “prompt a significant increase in the scope of immigration and double the number of returning Israelis.” I wonder what he bases these claims on. In any case, even he admits that at least half of those returning this year (and I allow myself to guess that many more beyond this figure) would do it regardless of the plan.


Therefore, the main implication of the “reform” is the provision of a gift for former Israelis who intended to return in any case.


A government enjoying budget surplus has reason to hand out gifts. Yet we can come up with people who are more deserving of gifts than returning former Israelis. For example, why don’t we finally pay minimum wage to soldiers performing their mandatory service for nothing? Instead of assisting former Israelis whose Brooklyn business failed, wouldn’t it make sense to assist small businesses that are facing survival difficulties here?


It is a good thing that the government wishes to encourage academicians, yet instead of rewarding elderly professors, who completed most of their careers in the United States, why not offer benefits to young academicians who built their academic home here? And what’s wrong with tax breaks to “regular” Israelis who have lived in Israel for 10 consecutive years?


We should remind ourselves that there are millions of citizens here who are filled with good intentions and face a daily struggle while helping the weak, volunteering, producing original Israeli creations, and giving birth to Israeli citizens in the full sense of the word.


The effective way to handle emigration is to make Israel fair, pleasant, and cultured enough so that our young people won’t leave. As to those who already left, the State of Israel needs only the best of them, who are willing to pay us for the right to be received here.


פרסום ראשון: 03.23.08, 10:15
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