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Ten reasons why 2021 is the ideal time to Invest in property in Israel




If you’ve been on the fence about investing in Israel, now might be a good time to get off – and fast. Jewish people have always had compelling emotional reasons for wanting to buy real estate in Israel, but they didn’t always provide a strong enough push to take on the significant financial commitment. 

2021 will be the year when all that changes! 

If you follow the Israeli real-estate market, you already know that there has never been a significant dip but today, more than ever, there are sound financial reasons to make that long-considered investment in Israeli real estate (or add to your existing portfolio).

1.           A robust, pandemic-proof property market

Israel is known as the land of miracles, and this is certainly true where the real-estate market is concerned. As chaos reigned in housing markets across the world, sales of property in Israel continued to grow throughout 2020. In the month of December, for example, there were more real-estate transactions in Israel than in almost any other month in the country’s history, with about 13 400 apartments sold – this in spite of a national lockdown!

Property prices across Israel also rose during the pandemic. In October, property prices increased by 4.1% in Jerusalem, 3.6% in the south of Israel, 3.4% in Tel Aviv, 3.3% in the central areas of the country, and 3.2% in the northern region compared to prices in the same month in 2019 – miraculous indeed!

2.           Investors are voting with their wallets

Investors have been buzzing enthusiastically around Israeli real estate in recent years, and this trend is showing no sign of abating, notwithstanding the pandemic. Sixty five percent more people invested in real estate in Israel in December 2020 than in the same month of the previous year. That equates to about 2 500 investment purchases in one-month alone.

Those buying for investment purposes tend to be shrewder than those buying a family home. Investors are more likely to consider economic factors over emotional or practical ones. The spike in Israeli real-estate investment thus shows a massive vote of confidence in the strength of the market.

3.           Record low interest-rate levels plus cheap mortgages

A winning combination of low interest rates and cheap mortgages is pushing up buying activity. Recent changes to Israeli law mean that purchasers can now take the lowest-rate mortgage on up to two-thirds of the mortgage value (as opposed to up to a third of the mortgage value as specified by the old law).

With interest rates standing at an extremely low 0.1% at the time of writing, this makes for very favourable buying conditions and extremely high demand.

4.           Limited development raises demand

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Israel Land Authority didn’t operate to full capacity in 2020 and, as a consequence, less land was released for new project development. In fact, the authority sold only enough land to build about 5 500 apartments in the first three quarters of 2020 – that’s 15% less than in 2019!

This dramatic drop in new development will ensure a robust market in which demand remains exceptionally high.

5.           Significant tax breaks for non-resident purchasers and second homeowners

Tax rates for investors are the best they’ve been in a long time.

This past July, Finance Minister Israel Katz announced yet more favourable tax conditions for real-estate investors. Purchase tax was significantly reduced to 5% on a property valued at up to 1.292 million shekels, 6% on an amount above 3.8 million shekels (you can view the entire scale on the Israel tax authority website). By way of comparison, former rates started at 8% on the price of an apartment up to 5.34 million shekels.

6.           “Vacci-nation” sparks faith, optimism, and further investment

Israel’s response to coronavirus has made it a benchmark of excellence on the world stage.

There is optimism that the current restrictions will soon be a distant memory, which is doing wonders for Israel’s public relations.

The perception that Israel is a third-world country no longer rings true. Not just because Israel leads the world in the vaccination race, but also due to the high number of successful startups the country has spawned and the massive influx of investment into the “startup nation” ($9.5 billion [R141.6 billion] in 2020 alone.)

As confidence in the country rises, so does investment in Israeli real estate from overseas, causing a positive chain reaction in terms of value. 

7.           Unrest and uncertainty fuels aliyah

Ever since the  Law of return in the 1950s declared that “every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh”, Jewish people have found a safe haven in Israel whenever trouble brews.

Over the years, the country has welcomed several waves of aliyah from various parts of the world, and in today’s troubled times, demand for aliyah is high again. Non-profit organisation Nefesh B’Nefesh has reported a more than 100% increase in requests about aliyah since the start of the pandemic.

New flexible working styles (triggered in part by the pandemic) have also made making aliyah more realistic for those who wish to keep their employment overseas. Add to the mix the fiasco of the recent United States elections, the Capitol Hill riots, rising antisemitism in Europe, and talk of a looming world recession, and you have the explosive mix that fuels aliyah.

Whenever there is an influx of people into a country, demand for housing goes up, and this is what we are witnessing.

8.           A volatile stock market means renewed interest in real estate

Stocks have long been considered a riskier investment, albeit with the potential for high returns. In times of volatility, however, many investors seek out more stable places to put their money.

Real-estate investment has long proven to be resilient and stable, even in the face of political and financial turmoil, and this is igniting renewed interest in real-estate investment in many parts of the world, especially in Israel. 

If you live outside Israel or own real estate in other parts of the world, this is a great time to hop on the Israeli real-estate wagon and diversify your portfolio.

9.           Peace deals to create thriving Middle East “super-hub”

Ground breaking peace deals with countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain are expected to result in a strong and vibrant regional economy.

The “new” Middle East will abound with investment opportunities, new businesses, and an increase in hotels and tourism.

Businesses are already flocking to the area, and deals are being signed as we write this blog. The agreement with the UAE alone is expected to create $4 billion in trade a year and 15 000 new jobs.

10.         The rise of the Airbnb rental model

Excellent weather, miles of gorgeous beaches, and a mature and bustling tourist trade have made Israel a long-time favourite vacation hotspot, especially for Jewish people from across the world.

Once lockdown restrictions lift, tourists who have been denied entry for more than a year will come flocking in desperate need of their “Israel vacation fix”.

Since the advent of COVID-19, many tourists have been looking for alternative accommodation to hotels, sparking renewed enthusiasm for the Airbnb-style rental. Many companies have replicated the model, and vacation apartments are proving popular in Israel. If your intention is to rent your investment property as a short-term rental, your chances of finding tenants and securing a good rental income have never been higher.

The influx of olim to the country means that demand for long-term rentals are high as well. Landlords in Israel can expect steady yields on long-term rental properties and, as aliyah increases, the rental market is expected to go up too.

A magical combination

High rates of aliyah, strong investment activity, low interest rates, cheap mortgages, and a bright economic future make Israel a seriously desirable place to be in 2021 and beyond.

Whether you actually want to live here yourself or just get your foot in the door of the Israeli real-estate market, it would be hard to find better investment conditions than those in 2021.

There is no reason to delay any longer – strike now while the iron’s hot!

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Saluting Zan Swartzberg – one of the 800 who fought for Israel



Zan Swartzberg from Bethlehem in the Free State was one of 800 South African Machal volunteers who heeded Israel’s call for help after it was surrounded by seven armies determined to obliterate it in 1948. He was just 21.

As he celebrated his 94th birthday and the launch of his fourth book this past weekend, he recalled those heady and harrowing days. “My first book is called The Hammers: A Personal Story of the 1948-1949 Israeli War of Independence. It’s called The Hammers because we flew huge American B17 flying fortresses. Three of them, day and night, for weeks on end. In other words, we hammered them, so our official name was The Hammers,” Swartzberg says.

As Israel mourns those lost in defence of the country and to terrorism on Yom Hazikaron, and celebrates its 73rd year of independence on Yom Ha’atzmaut, the man who was there at the start says the country shouldn’t be taken for granted.

His memories are still vivid of joining thousands of other Machal volunteers in fighting for Israel’s independence, and the enormous stress and challenges they faced.

“Many were World War II veterans, and knew the odds were against us,” says Swartzberg. “An air shuttle service was started to transport volunteers, and I needed to get 100 hours of experience, so I got it on the shuttle flights. Each flight could take only 19 volunteers at a time. The South African government was aware of the volunteers heading off to fight, but turned a blind eye. We should always be grateful for that.”

His latest book, launched on Sunday, is titled I Salute you Sir!. “This is because a few years ago, I got a call late one evening from an Israeli official, inviting me and my wife, Noreen, to celebrate Israel’s independence. He said, ‘Are you Zan Swartzberg? Are you still alive?’ A special meeting was arranged with President Benjamin Netanyahu. And when he saw the ribbons on my windbreaker, he knew exactly who I was. He came and put his hand out and said, ‘I salute you sir’.”

The book tells other fascinating stories. “First, how my father escaped Lithuania, and about the Jew hatred that we as schoolchildren went through in Bethlehem.” It also tells how the Swartzbergs were reunited with their long-lost daughter, and how his brother Joe cheated death – twice.

Speaking at the book launch, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft of the Small Jewish Communities Association described how “Zan [or Zundel which is his full Jewish name], for most of his life has lived in Bethlehem. He remains to this day on his farm proudly named Masada Farm/Loch Katrine Farm in the Bethlehem district.” Swartzberg’s wife, Noreen, describes her husband as a “proud Jew”, which motivated him to name the farm Masada.

Describing Swartzberg as “an ardent Zionist” Silberhaft said, “It’s a remarkable fact that of the approximately 3 000 Jews from around the world who volunteered to fight for the Jewish state in its time of supreme need, more than a quarter came from South Africa, whose Jewish community at the time numbered barely 100 000 souls. Only the United States, whose Jewish population was fifty times larger, produced more volunteers for the cause. Since then, it has always been a matter of great pride to him to be able to claim to have been one of ‘South Africa’s 800’.

“Having obtained an international radio operator’s licence prior to this, Zan joined the Israeli army and became a radio operator and air gunner in the fledgling Israeli Air Force. He was in the air force division from 1948 to 1949, serving in the famed 69th squadron, and was also an instructor in radio telegraphy.

“A number of the 800 South African volunteers went on to achieve considerable fame and success. They included Judge Cecil Margo, who played a key role in the establishment of the Israeli Air Force, anti-apartheid hero Arthur Goldreich, former Woolworths Chief Executive David Susman, and former Johannesburg mayor Eddie Magid.

“After the war, Zan devoted himself to various pursuits. He was a yachtsman, served in the merchant navy, and later in army commandos. In due course, he became a business man and then a farmer. In collaboration with Lorraine Houston, he has become an increasingly prolific author.”

His second book, published in July 2019, was titled Ovamboland Border War: An exercise in Futility, focusing on South Africa’s border war in then South West Africa. The following April, his third book was published about the realisation of his life-long dream of sailing the open sea. Titled Survival, The Voyage of Yacht Black Jed, it told of his yacht trip from East London, South Africa, to Villamoura, Portugal.

To mark the celebration of his 94th birthday, Silberhaft surprised Swartzberg by presenting him with the mittens he wore as a Machalnik. “Fifteen or 20 years ago, I donated my bomber jacket and mittens to the Machal Museum in Israel. I don’t know how he did it, but when he handed me those mittens on my birthday, I was so emotional. The tears poured … I was gobsmacked. And then I asked him to please re-donate them to the museum.”

With less than 10 known Machalniks still alive, Swartzberg feels grateful to have been there and to be able to tell the story of Israel’s miraculous fight to survive. He recalls how while walking in the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, Israelis would stop him and thank him for his service to the founding of their country. “They don’t forget what the Machalniks did. I feel so privileged that I played a small part in the birth of a Jewish state.”

  • Zan Swartzberg’s books can be bought on Amazon.

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SA’s unique connection to Israel makes Israelis feel at home



Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut are generally tough days for Israelis in the diaspora as it isn’t easy to experience them properly thousands of kilometres away from Israel.

But in South Africa, many Israelis say it’s easier.

“The first few years in South Africa, I was amazed at how similar Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut felt to how it is in Israel,” says Israeli ambassador Lior Keinan. “I made a point of visiting different communities and schools on Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. It felt so familiar. They played the same songs and danced the same dances. It was a relief.”

Liat Amar Arran, the local Jewish Agency representative and the director of the Israel Centre, agrees. When she moved here, she thought these particular days would be when she would be most needed with her “personal stories and sense of connection” with Israel. “Instead, I met a community that was already strongly connected and was very involved in commemorating and celebrating Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. It was amazing.”

For South African Jewry, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut showcase their connection with Israel.

“Yom Hazikaron is an incredibly important day when we commemorate those who fell protecting Israel. Without those who have given their lives to keep am Yisrael [the people of Israel] alive, we wouldn’t feel protected here in South Africa,” says South African Zionist Federation National Chairperson Rowan Polovin. “It’s really important to realise exactly what the people of Israel have gone through to keep Israel alive.”

For Israelis living here, it’s a lot more personal.

“Being here on Yom Hazikaron has extra special meaning for me,” says Keinan. “I’m fortunate that none of my family has been killed in action. However, one of my best friends who I studied with in high school was killed in the second Lebanon War. Ashi Novik was a South African who moved to Israel. So now, for me to be an ambassador in South Africa, I can look at the memorial of all the South Africans who paid the ultimate price for Israel, and I see the name of my high school friend. When I light a candle for him personally and all those whose names are on the memorial, I feel like I’m closing the circle. I knew him in the past, and now I’m here honouring his memory.”

Habonim Dror Southern Africa shaliach Lior Agiv says learning to appreciate Yom Hazikaron has been a process.

“As a young child, these days of Zikaron and Atzmaut always seemed to be something amorphic. Hearing my father’s stories of all the wars he had taken part in, watching these series and movies on TV, it all remained a bit abstract. As I grew up and my army chapter was getting closer, I started to wonder more about the meaning of these days.

“All these feelings grew much stronger after my army days near Ramallah. Since then, every year, no matter where I’m located, I honour these days by lightning a neshama candle for my fallen friends and try to deepen my knowledge of our wars and fallen ones.”

Batya Shmueli, also a shaliach in South Africa, says, “I was born on the African continent in Ethiopia, and at the age of 11, my family fulfilled our dream of returning to Jerusalem. Returning to Africa as an Israeli to do a mission with my family is closing a huge circle. We will connect with our brothers and sisters and remember the loved ones who fell and sacrificed their lives in various wars for the sake of the people of Israel and future generations,” she says.

“Independence Day is a day in which we stop for a moment and look at the fact that we have a state and a home for the Jewish people,” she says.

Arran says that everyone in Israel knows someone who has been killed, which is why Yom Hazikaron is felt so keenly. “My good childhood friend, Ariel, was killed in the army,” she says. “My brother-in-law lost his entire unit in a helicopter crash. Everyone knows someone that has been killed.”

Lee Salama, a Habonim shaliach in Cape Town, says, “In officer boot camp in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], we have a saying, ‘We have to realise that in order for us to be able to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, there were people who had to die.’ And then we have this beautiful transition to Yom Ha’atzmaut and celebrating life.”

Says Polovin, “Yom Ha’atzmaut is an incredible celebration of everything Israel has accomplished in its very short 73 years. No matter where you look, Israel is a ‘light to the nations’ showing the way. Whether it’s technology, medical advancements, or even showing the world how to recover and rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic, Israel is at the head of the pack.”

Says Keinan, “The beauty of going straight from the sombre day of Yom Hazikaron to the happy day of Yom Ha’atzmaut shows us that from great pain and sorrow can come the greatest joy. The suffering and pain, and the joy and celebration, are really just two sides of the coin.”

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Helen Mirren to play Golda Meir in upcoming film



(JTA) Academy Award winner Helen Mirren will portray Golda Meir, Israel’s only female prime minister, in an upcoming biopic set during the Yom Kippur War.

Production Golda will begin later this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The news follows the announcement last month of another star-powered production on Meir, a series titled Lioness led by Israeli actress Shira Haas of Unorthodox fame.

While Lioness will follow Meir from “her birth in Kiev to her American upbringing in Milwaukee, her role in the formation of Israel, and her rise to become the new nation’s first and only female prime minister”, according to a report in Deadline, Golda will focus on the turbulent Yom Kippur War period.

Along with the rest of Israel, Meir and her all-male cabinet were taken by surprise by the attack on the eve of the holiday in 1973 by Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces. The ensuing bloody conflict – chronicled in the recent acclaimed Israeli production Valley of Tears on HBO Max – shattered the nation’s growing sense of confidence at the time in an embattled region.

Golda will be directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won the 2018 Academy Award for best short for Skin, a film involving neo-Nazis that he later made into a feature.

“As someone who was born during the Yom Kippur War, I’m honoured to tell this fascinating story about the first and only woman to ever lead Israel,” Nattiv said. “Nicholas Martin’s brilliant script dives into Golda’s final chapter as the country faces a deadly surprise attack during the holiest day of the year, a core of delusional generals undermining Golda’s judgement.

“I couldn’t be more excited to work with the legendary Miss Mirren to bring this epic, emotional, and complex story to life.”

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