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‘Not my country anymore’ – why Israelis are emigrating



JTA – When Daniel Schleider and his wife, Lior, leave Israel next month, it will be for good – and with a heavy heart.

“I have no doubt I will have tears in my eyes the whole flight,” said Schleider, who was born in Mexico and lived in Israel for a time as a child before returning on his own at 18. Describing himself as “deeply Zionist”, he served in a combat unit in the Israeli army, married an Israeli woman, and built a career in an Israeli company.

Yet as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, assembled a coalition that includes far-right parties, and started pushing changes that would erode hallmarks of Israeli democracy, Schleider found himself booking plane tickets and locating an apartment in Barcelona. Spain’s language and low cost of living made the city a good fit, he said, but the real attraction was living in a place where he wouldn’t constantly have to face down the ways that Israel is changing.

Israel’s strength over its 75 years, Schleider said, is “the economy we built by selling our brains … And yet, in less than half a year, we’ve managed to destroy all that.”

Schleider has been joining the sweeping protests that have taken root across the country in response to the new right-wing government and its effort to strip the Israeli judiciary of much of its power and independence. But while he considered fighting the changes rather than fleeing them, he also accepts the government’s argument that most Israelis voted for something he doesn’t believe in.

Schleider is far from alone in seeking to leave Israel this year. Though Israelis have always moved abroad for various reasons, the pace of planned departures appears to be picking up. Many of those weighing emigration were catalysed by the new government, according to accounts from dozens of people in various stages of emigration and of organisations aiding them.

Ocean Relocation, which assists people with immigration to and emigration from Israel, has received more than 100 inquiries a day from people looking to leave since Justice Minister Yariv Levin first presented his proposal for judicial reform back in January. That’s four times the rate of inquiries the organisation received last year, according to senior manager Shay Obazanek.

“Never in history has there been this level of demand,” Obazanek said, citing the company’s 80 years of experience as the “barometer” of movement in and out the country.

Shlomit Drenger, who leads Ocean Relocation’s business development, said those seeking to relocate included families pushed to leave by the political situation; those investing in real estate abroad as a future shelter; and Israelis who can work remotely and are worried about the country’s upheaval. Economics are also a concern. With foreign investors issuing dire warnings about Israel’s economy if the judicial reform goes through, companies wary to invest in the country, and the shekel already weakening, it could grow more expensive to leave in the future.

“We’re living in a democracy and that democracy is dependent on demography, and I can’t fight it,” said Ofer Stern, 40, who quit his job as a tech developer to travel the world. He is alluding to the fact that Orthodox Jews, who tend to be right-wing, are the fastest-growing segment of the Israeli population. “The country that I love and that I’ve always loved won’t be here in 10 years.”

“If this so-called ‘reform’ is enacted, which is really tantamount to a coup, it’s hard to imagine that I want my children to grow up to fight in an army whose particularism outweighs the basic human rights that are so fundamental to my values,” said Marni Mandell, who is considering emigrating.

Casandra Larenas had long courted the idea of moving overseas, but she had always batted away the idea.

That all changed with the judicial overhaul. While not against the idea of reform per se, Laranes is firmly opposed to the way it is being carried out, saying it totally disregards the millions of people on the other side. Chilean-born Laranes grew up under Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.

“I don’t want something like that again,” said Larenas, who has purchased a plane ticket in a few months’ time and plans to take up residency abroad.

The departure of liberal and moderate Israelis could have implications for Israel’s political future as Israel doesn’t permit its citizens to vote absentee.

Benjamin-Michael Aronov, who grew up with Russian parents in the US, said he was taken aback by how frequently Israelis express shock that he moved to Israel in the first place. “The number one question I get from Israelis is, ‘Why would you move here from the US? We’re all trying to get out of here. There’s no future here.’”

He said he had come to realise that they were right.

“I thought the warnings were about something that would have an impact on our children or grandchildren, but that our lifetime would be spent in an Israeli high-tech, secular, golden era. But I’m realising the longevity of Tel Aviv’s bubble of beaches and parties and crazy-smart, secular people changing the world with technology is maybe even more a fantasy now than when Herzl dreamt it,” Aronov said. “I found my perfect home, a Jewish home, sadly being undone by Jews.”

Not everyone choosing to jump ship is ideologically aligned with the protest movement. Amir Cohen, who asked to use a pseudonym because he hasn’t informed his employers of his plans yet, is a computer science lecturer at Ariel University in the West Bank who voted in the last election for the Otzma Yehudit party chaired by far-right provocateur Itamar Ben-Gvir. Cohen was willing to put aside his ideological differences with the haredi Orthodox parties if it meant achieving political stability, but was soon disillusioned.

“None of it is working. And now we’re on our way to civil war, it’s that simple,” he said.

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  1. Aharon Rose

    Mar 23, 2023 at 11:54 pm

    I think the author has gathered together a small group of very muddle-headed people.
    One says that the present judicial changes are fully democratic and the result of Israel’s changing demographics. Immediately afterwards, it’s a coup (which is certainly undemocratic).
    Another person’s idea of a perfect Jewish home is “Tel Aviv’s bubble of beaches and parties and crazy-smart, secular people changing the world with technology”. How is that Jewish?!
    I’d like to know whether right-wingers left Israel in similar numbers when left-wing government policies upset them. If not, then perhaps the situation today tells you more about the Zionistic feelings of the 2 sides than it does about the present perils facing Israel.
    This article says nothing of substance about Israel’s present problem.

  2. Mark L

    Mar 24, 2023 at 6:26 am

    A perfect example of what happens when people start to believe their own propaganda. They’ve convinced themselves that a) Israel will become 10x worse than Iran within a matter of weeks, and b) that life in places like Albania and Greece is simply idyllic in every which way.

    Also just shows how Zionistic they really aren’t.

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