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Israelis ask: ‘What are we doing here?’
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For first time, Israel is nearing zero growth from immigration, with number of those leaving closing in on number of those coming

TEL AVIV - Most Israeli Jews have a negative perception of the Middle East with many asking themselves, "What the hell are we doing here?" according to a survey released on Tuesday.

Asked to give the first words that came to mind when thinking about the Middle East, 61 percent of respondents were negative, 20 percent neutral and 19 percent positive, Tel Aviv University's Centre for Peace Research said.

The negative responses mainly related to war and violence, the centre's poll found.

The survey also found that 71 percent of Jewish Israelis do not believe that Israel will succeed in the coming decades to integrate politically with the rest of the Middle East.

The centre's survey, using telephone interview of 599 people, was carried out at the start of September.

The sampling error for the poll is 4.5 percent, the university said.

The survey came at a time when Israel is witness a reduction in newcomers.

The influx that brought together millions of Jews from more than 100 countries following Israel's creation in 1948 has dwindled to a trickle.

The last great immigration wave — Ethiopian Christians of Jewish ancestry who convert back to Judaism for resettlement in Israel — has just ended.

Israel’s immigrants today are as likely to be job-hunting non-Jews from Africa and Asia, many of them here illegally, as Zionists on a zealous religious mission.

Diaspora Jews are also less likely to leave everything behind for Israel. It's much easier today to be a dual national, living part-time in both worlds.

Before the creation of Israel, the Jewish population in Palestine grew to 600,000 in five great waves of immigration of European Jews.

More than 3 million more have followed, and Israel's Jewish population now stands at 5.5 million, plus 1.4 million Arab citizens. Of the world's population of just over 13 million Jews, Israel's is the biggest portion, having surpassed America's in 2006.

"There is no place in the world where the number of immigrants is five times the number of the people who were there. It is unprecedented," said Sergio DellaPergola, a prominent demographer at the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an Israeli think tank.

The 1950s, according to the Jewish Agency which handles immigration, saw the arrival of 765,000 Jews from North Africa and the Middle East.

Next came tens of thousands from the European communist bloc, and then another million from the collapsing Soviet Union.

Starting in the early 1980s, Israel clandestinely airlifted 80,000 members of Ethiopia's ancient Jewish community, nearly 15,000 of them in just two days in 1991.

Today such immigration is a thing of the past.

Jews in America and other prosperous Western countries have no pressing motivation to leave everything for Israel.

Indeed, while the US Jewish community is one of Israel's most important backers, only 120,000 American Jews have immigrated here.

For the first time, Israel is nearing zero growth from immigration, with the number of those leaving closing in on the number of those coming, DellaPergola said.

The end of mass immigration comes as Israelis have lost some of their self-confidence, bogged down in their 41-year occupation of the Palestinian territories, perceiving their country to be under weak, corrupt leadership.

Source >  Middle East Online

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