El Al airplane
El Al airplane Photo: Moshe Shai / Flash90

Just 14% of all new immigrants who made Aliyah to Israel over the past eight years are Jewish, according to a report by the NGO Hiddush citing data gathered by the Israeli government.

The Hiddush organization – a trans-denominational progressive group backed by the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements – filed a freedom of information request with Israel’s Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration, a part of the Interior Ministry.

Hiddush requested data regarding the status of recent immigrants who made Aliyah to Israel under the state’s Law of Return, which guarantees Jews and their immediate family members the right to citizenship in the Jewish state.

According to the data collected by the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration, however, the vast majority of people who made Aliyah to Israel in the past eight years are not Jewish according to Jewish law.

Following the story's publication, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry's Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration said that there appeared to be an error in the figures provided to Hiddush, adding that the numbers would be re-examined.

"Apparently there were inaccuracies in the collection of the data which were reported regarding the breakdown of immigration statistics. The statistics are being re-examined, and once the examination is completed, an update will be provided."

According to the Hiddush report, of the 179,849 immigrants who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return over the past eight years, just 14.1%, or 25,375, were actually Jewish according to Jewish law. The vast majority, 154,474, were the spouses or relatives of Jews.

While Israel’s Law of Return, first passed in 1950, originally guaranteed the right to immigrate to Israel only to Jews, in 1970 that right was extended to various relatives of Jews, including the children and grandchildren of Jews – even if those descendants are not Jews under Jewish law – as well as the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew.

Under Jewish law, only the child of a Jewish woman – or a woman who completes a recognized conversion process – is considered to be Jewish. The children of a Jewish paternal grandfather, or of a Jewish father, while eligible for Israeli citizenship under the amended Law of Return, are not considered Jews if their mother is not also Jewish.

The overwhelming majority of immigrants from Eastern Europe in recent years have been non-Jews, according to the data collected by the Interior Ministry, with just 4.3% of immigrants from Russia, or 2,244 out of 52,337, over the past eight years being Jews according to Jewish law.

The trend has accelerated, with just one out of 40 immigrants from Russia in 2019 (up to October 31st) being Jewish.

Among immigrants from the Ukraine, just one in twelve immigrants over the past eight years have been Jews, with 3,123 Jewish immigrants compared to 34,835 non-Jewish immigrants. This year, the proportion of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine dropped further, to one in 25.

Even among immigrants from Western countries, non-Jews made up a majority of recent immigrants, with just 5,487 Jews immigrating from the United States over the past eight years, compared to 12,785 non-Jews.

Seventy-three percent of immigrants from France over that same period, numbering 20,825, were non-Jews, compared to just 7,851 Jews, or 27% of immigrants.

Hiddush chief Uri Regev chided the Jewish Agency for concealing the fact that most immigrants to Israel are non-Jews.

“The Jewish Agency deserves praise for its dedicated work to encourage immigration and the successful absorption of so many immigrants, based on the expansive rules of the Law of Return. Nevertheless, it is hard not to criticize the fact that the Agency chose to conceal from the public the true situation regarding the Jewish people today, which is also shown in the immigration statistics.”