Aliyah flight
Aliyah flightFlash90

Several Israeli news outlets released articles recently that this year of 2021 has seen a 31% increase in persons making aliyah to Israel compared to the previous year, 2020.

However, the citation of this statistic is incomplete.

In fact, aliyah to Israel hasn't been this low since 2014, except for last year in 2020, which was the lowest year in over a decade. The number of Jews making aliyah in 2019 was approximately 34,000 persons, and the running average from 2014 to 2019 was about 30,000 people per year. But in 2020 it was less than 16,000, and now as 2021 draws to a close it is at roughly 20,000. [Specific numbers vary slightly depending on the source.]

Aliyah chart
Aliyah chartBen Kerido

The cited success is thus missing context. 2021 is shaping up to be only slightly better than 2020, but it is still a 40%+ decrease from 2019, and a 30%+ from the running average of 2014-2019.

So that brings us to a very serious question:

Has the interest in making aliyah by diaspora Jews dropped by over 40%?

Or has the processing of aliyah requests decreased by 40% or more due to Covid-19 or other factors?

The answer seems to be a combination. Speak with your fellow Jews in diaspora communities or peruse your favorite social media website and observe aliyah-themed conversations,and you will inevitably hear the same refrain.

There is a bottleneck in the aliyah process that takes much too long for the agencies involved to process. Stories abound of unresponsive staff, already approved applications being canceled for want of an obscure document here or there (that the Israeli government doesn't actually require), and families waiting countless months to board a plane even after their departure has been fully approved.

And the aliyah process for those inside of Israel isn't any better.

Some offices refuse to process an aliyah request from persons inside of Israel unless the application is submitted on that individual's behalf through an official organization. It is not clear why. Can an Israeli government office can legally refuse to perform a function mandated by law without an intermediary?

Regardless, even persons here in Israel who are eligible to make aliyah are being pushed back into the bureaucracy bottleneck, even if that means visas expire and persons trying to make aliyah become “illegal residents” to their detriment and against their will.

Whether it's making aliyah or applying for an entry permit or visa renewal, the affiliated Israeli government infrastructure is a bureaucratic catastrophe. Getting an appointment with the interior ministry takes months if you are lucky! The only way to make an appointment is by submitting a request on their website (the MyVisit app has no option for aliyah or visa requests).

More often than not, those website requests are completely ignored. Every single day the interior ministry office has a crowd of furious persons waiting outside for it to open. The story is always the same. There is a pressing issue that requires some kind of assistance. The interior ministry has ignored the appointment requests for weeks, or even months. And now people have no choice but to barge their way into the office, screaming at the security guard until he or she brings out the manager... who merely argues with them further, trying to send them away.

Perhaps the most egregious example is the recent national embarrassment of the Sugihara incident. Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by issuing travel papers and visa permits to allow them to escape Nazi German invasions.

The son and other family members and friends of Chiune Sugihara were invited to attend a ceremony hosted by the municipality of Jerusalem to honor the Japanese diplomat and “Holocaust hero” who rescued 3,500 Jews with visas. But – the epitome of shameful irony – the beast of Israeli bureaucracy denied them all their own visas! The head of the Interior Minister herself, Ayalet Shaked, had to personally intervene to resolve the issue.

An untold number of Jews, halakhic Jews, who are trying to make aliyah and move to their promised homeland are being told they can't come to Israel and that they must stay longer in the diaspora – not by oppressive and tyrannical non-Jewish governments, not by dangerous antisemitic persecution, but by their fellow Jews themselves.

While there are ostensibly multiple ways that this crisis can be mitigated, here are three suggestions - none of them taking the place of an invidividual's deep desire to make aliyah, no matter how many obstacles arise, remembering that compared to Russian refuseniks, early pioneers and Jews incarcerated in Cyprus after WWII, aliya today is still easier. But that does nothing to excuse those in charge of it, now that it is our own country.:

1. Oversight staff of Misrad Hapnim (the Population and Immigration Authority) should be dramatically increased. Steps should be taken to ensure efficient processing of the needs of both citizens and aliyah-making citizens-in-progress and permanent residents in a manner that is both functional and in proper accordance with Israeli law.

2. The total number of pending applications should be examined to determine if the agencies involved are acting efficiently enough. If that proves to be the case, steps, even drastic ones, must be taken to change the situation asap.

3 If Misrad Hapnim (the Population and Immigration Authority) is not able to efficiently process persons making aliyah (and the needs of the rest of Israeli society), then a program should be instated where young women serving the country in Sherut Leumi (non-military national service) and/or male and female personnel from the Pikud HaOref (IDF Home Front Command) who are not presently engaged in vital operations should be trained to assist the Misrad Hapnim and Israeli consulates with the administrative processing of aliyah applications, visas, and other needs.

We cannot pretend that there is not a national crisis regarding key population infrastructure here in Israel. And a solution must be found to mitigate this ongoing bureaucratic catastrophe. The Interior Minister, MK Ayelet Shaked, must effect across-the-board change.

The purpose of the Israeli Law of Return is to ensure that another Holocaust could never happen again as long as Jews can have a homeland to escape to. But if Israeli bureaucracy and other organizations have collapsed due to Covid-19 and still can't function up to par – presumably to the detriment of thousands of Jews trying to make aliyah now – then how can we expect to manage the influx of Jews fleeing from another great calamity, G-d in the future? If has v'halilah another Holocaust were to happen tomorrow, it is our own deplorable bureaucracy here in the State of Israel that would guarantee the doom of countless Jews.

J. Cohen is an oleh who has been following aliyah statistics for years.