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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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Commonwealth Jewish Council calls for release of ‘Nigeria three’



All Rudy Rochman wanted to do was to shine a light on unknown, disconnected, and re-emerging Jewish communities around the world, but something went horribly wrong.

The charismatic 27-year-old Israeli activist, who has more than 97 000 followers on Instagram, was working on a new documentary series titled, We Were Never Lost, which focused on these “lost tribes”. At the beginning of July, he and his team travelled to Nigeria to film their first episode.

However, Rochman, filmmaker Andrew Noam Leibman, and French-Israeli journalist Edouard David Benaym were arrested by Nigerian security services when the three presented a Torah scroll to a local community. They remain in custody, haven’t been charged, and haven’t been given legal representation. Organisations and individuals around the world are working desperately to get them released.

“Our first season is set in Africa, and we are filming our first episode on the Jews of Nigeria,” Rochman’s team wrote on Facebook on 8 July. “There are many Jews in Nigeria, Igbos included, and we are here only to help local practising and observing Jewish communities, to provide them with resources, and to document their lives, experiences, and aspirations. We don’t take any position on political movements as we aren’t here as politicians nor as a part of any government delegation.”

But the next day, they were arrested, supposedly for supporting “separatist activists”. Commonwealth Jewish Council (CJC) Chief Executive Clive Lawton is one of the many people working behind the scenes. Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from his home in the United Kingdom, he says he is alarmed that the men have been held in detention for more than a week without being charged. “That would indicate it’s only an investigation, but they still have no legal representation, and how can such an investigation take more than a week?”

He says the CJC has written to the Nigerian high commissioner to the Commonwealth, His Excellency Sarafa Tunji Isola, urging him to pressure his government to release them soon. “They are being detained on the flimsiest of pretexts. I’m sure the Nigerian government wouldn’t want to cultivate an image that foreign visitors can be snatched up on spurious accusations,” says Lawton.

He has also written to the secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations, Baroness Patricia Scotland. “In this family of nations, the quality of relationships and expectations of decency carry a lot of weight. It’s shocking that Nigeria might continue to hobnob with other heads of governments while treating foreigners like this. It should be seen as shameful. Yes, they might need to investigate something, but that doesn’t take 10 days. This isn’t just an investigation. It’s intimidation. Acting without due process is against Commonwealth principles,” he says.

He hopes that the less formal relationships between Commonwealth countries will make an impact. “At the very least, they should be released to go home. But more desirable would be that they be allowed to return to their cultural activity of making a documentary.”

Lawton says his organisation seeks to build relationships between Jews from around the world. More than 40 countries, including South Africa, are members.

Although the media reported that “three Israelis” were arrested, it’s unclear if all three have Israeli citizenship.

Lawton says Rochman and Leibman entered Nigeria on their American passports, and Benaym on his French passport. “We knew that they planned to make this documentary and were in the first stages of filming. They went to south-east Nigeria to visit a community. Like anyone making such a visit, they wanted to bring artefacts or objects to present to them. In this instance, they very generously brought a Sefer Torah.”

Two weeks ago, Rochman wrote on Instagram about how his team had “just acquired a beautiful Torah that survived the Holocaust and is believed to have come from an old community in Ukraine about 200 years ago”.

“The scribal experts our team spoke to stated that the ktav [writing] had since gone extinct, and they couldn’t believe their eyes when we sent them pictures of the scroll.

“We will be bringing the Torah and gifting it to the youth movement of Igbo Jewish communities of Nigeria for them to have access to our nation’s holy text.”

“It would seem that some separatist activists wrote Facebook messages along the lines of ‘welcoming this act of solidarity’”, Lawton says. “But in fact the filmmakers categorically stated that they had no interest in political issues and were there for a cultural reason – to make a film.

“They arrived on a Thursday, and visited a synagogue,” he says. “That was when Nigerian security services entered the synagogue and arrested them, taking them to the capital, Abuja. On the Friday, the men’s embassies were alerted, and sought to get involved. Chabad in Abuja has managed to organise provision of kosher food for them, which the security services agreed to allow. They also agreed for Benaym to be transported to the French embassy for medical attention, as long as he was returned to detention, and that is what was done. Israel has no ‘formal locus’ to help as they didn’t enter on Israeli passports, but it has sought to engage government and services.”

He believes that they are being held in some kind of “detention circumstances”, but cannot say what these conditions are like, if they are separated, or if they are being held with others. But he says that the fact that the French embassy was willing to return Benaym suggests it was “probably not extreme”.

A member of the Igbo community, speaking to the SA Jewish Report on condition of anonymity, says, “Our information is that Rudy and co. came here to do a documentary on the connection of the Igbo people to Biblical Israelites. Many Igbos are reviving the practices of their ancestors and returning to Judaism. This is what Rudy and his team wanted to do – to hear our story as told by our people. But sadly, some local people hijacked the original intention of Rudy and began to make political capital out of it. The team was bringing a Sefer Torah to be donated to our community. We were very happy that many Israelis would get to know about our Israelite heritage and know that we are brethren.

“Our people are very saddened by the arrest, but we don’t want to heighten tension by making utterances as the matter is being handled. We keep praying for their safety. We believe they will be released because their visit was for religious reasons. We don’t believe they came here to undermine the security of Nigeria. In our synagogues, we don’t entertain separatist activities. We are very sad about their plight. We see it as someone getting into unforeseen trouble while in search of a long lost brother.”

The most recent update on the We Were Never Lost Instagram page is that, “Rudy, Noam, and David are still in custody, but are ok. Their spirits remain high. Three embassies are working diligently towards a resolution. No other action is necessary from the community at this stage, but thank you all for the care and support.”

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Diaspora minister expresses concern and support after riots



The newly elected Israeli minister of diaspora affairs this week sent a heartfelt message of support to the South African Jewish community following last week’s devastating protests and riots.

Dr Nachman Shai this week expressed his “warmest regards and personal blessing” in a letter to the community.

“All of us in Israel have watched the recent events in the KwaZulu-Natal region and around South Africa with deep concern. We stand with you in solidarity, and are particularly thinking about the Durban and Johannesburg Jewish communities during this challenging time.”

He said it was also a difficult moment for Jewish communities around the world. “In South Africa, we witnessed the rise of antisemitism following Operation Guardian of the Walls, which challenged your safety and sense of security.”

His ministry is a partner in ensuring the resilience of the community, and engaging actors within Israel to understand how its military actions had a direct impact on the Jewish world, Shai said.

“Our ability as a Jewish people to take on our shared challenges depends on our ability to engage effectively with one another.”

Shai said he was sure that his upcoming meeting with the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) and leadership would be the first of many “as we develop an ongoing conversation between us”.

“The secret of Jewish resilience rests in our sense of shared responsibility towards each other. With this frame, I look forward to working hand in hand with all of you to live up to our potential as both a diverse and unified Jewish people.”

He said the South African Jewish community had long been “a thriving epicentre of Jewish life and a true friend of Israel”, and as Israel’s new diaspora affairs minister, he looked forward to finding opportunities to further strengthen the relationship between South African Jewry and the state and people of Israel in the coming months.

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the SAZF, said he appreciated Shai’s heartfelt message.

“The past few months have been an extremely challenging and difficult time for South African Jewry. Our connection as Jews living in the diaspora remains vitally important as a continued source of comfort and strength at all times, but particularly in times of hardship.”

He said the SAZF looked forward to further engagement with the minister on “developing and building upon the crucial relationship and bond between the state of Israel and the South African Jewish community”.

Shai was in South Africa in August 2017, when he led a delegation of five members of the Israeli Knesset to “promote dialogue, understanding, and co-operation”.

The delegation met leaders across the South African political spectrum, including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former President Kgalema Motlanthe, former Johannesburg Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba, and former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane. It held meetings in parliament, and met members of the DA, Congress of the People, African Christian Democratic Party, Inkatha Freedom Party, and Freedom Front Plus. The delegation, a product of co-operation between the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli foreign affairs ministry, and the Jewish Agency, also met leaders of the Jewish community and engaged with the key figures in the Christian and business communities, where it reiterated Israel’s commitment to sharing expertise and experience in agriculture, water, and hi-tech.

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Transforming a rubbish dump into an oasis



After greening the desert with fruit and vegetables, Israelis looked elsewhere to make improvements. The country’s latest environmental achievement is to turn the Hiriya rubbish dump between Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport into a park.

This former dump has been transformed into the largest green area in the Middle East, with more than 8 000 dunams (8km2) of parkland.

The Hiriya dump (Hiriya in Arabic means good in the sense of goodness and blessing in the past) was an eyesore and a rather smelly one at that, accumulating the majority of garbage from the greater Tel Aviv area.

The vision to convert this dumping ground into a green space came from the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He was also the general who, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, led his soldiers and tanks behind the Egyptian Third Army and surrounded them, cutting them off from mainland Egypt in the heat of the Sinai.

Today, the luscious green park has little lakes, dams, and revitalised rivers, with a huge variety of plants, bushes, and trees. Aptly, it has been named the Ariel Sharon Park. Venture to the edge of it, and you see a spectacular view of Tel Aviv.

The gas released by the landfill is being collected and rerouted underground, past the Shapirim Stream and Route #1 (the main Tel Aviv – Jerusalem highway) to a textile plant in Azur, where the gas is converted into green energy.

According to Shlomit Doten Gissin from the department of environment and sustainability at the park, the number of bird species has risen from only 80 to more than 200 species, with bird hides everywhere for visitors to watch birds in silence.

Gissin says the vegetation in the park was specifically planted to encourage low-flying birds so as not to interfere with the flight path to Ben Gurion Airport. Hundreds of indigenous plants, trees, and shrubs have been planted among fresh water ponds.

Some plants have been planted diagonally on the slopes to allow easy movements of butterflies so they don’t hit a “wall” of plants. There are also tiny animals to be found, even jackals and smaller cats.

This park is one of the wonders of unusable space being converted into flourishing public spaces in Israel. Completion should take about another year, but it’s already being enjoyed by many.

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