January 31, 2002
Israel’s Emigration Problem
More than any other Israeli politician, Yossi Beilin has a knack for saying things that many other people are thinking but will not say, and he has just done it again.
This time the subject is emigration from Israel, which, he told Yediot Aharonot newspaper, is the inevitable result of the government's increasingly militaristic way of dealing with the Palestinian uprising.
He was not speaking about all Israelis, but specifically about the young elite -- the high achievers, the potential future leaders of the country, who have the ability and financial backing to make it in the West, and who, according to Beilin, will be trying their luck in greater numbers if the situation in Israel does not turn around. Already, he says, Israelis abroad who otherwise would be returning are staying away because their homeland has grown so acutely uninviting.
At Tel Aviv University, Ran, 25, a law and political science student, says he has been thinking about a future abroad for years, and the intifada has only sharpened those thoughts. "As soon as I'm convinced there's no chance for peace, I'll be out of here. Today, I still believe there's a chance," he says.
Among his friends and acquaintances, the extreme left-wingers are "already gone," while the more moderate left-wingers like himself live here in doubt. Most of his circle, he says, are people who have been driven sharply to the right by the intifada, and they "say we have to stay here no matter what, if for no other reason than because the Arabs want us out of here. "It's a kind of davka patriotism," he says.
It is not fear for himself that makes Ran think about leaving Israel one day, rather fear for his future children -- fear for their safety, and fear of giving them a future of "ruling over an occupied people," something he has had experience with. "I served in a combat unit in the territories, manning an Army barricade, humiliating Palestinians. Believe me, what they report in the media isn't one percent of what the soldiers are doing there," he says.
This ties in to a related controversy that surfaced recently -- more than 50 reserve Army officers signed a petition saying they would no longer serve in the West Bank or Gaza because they were finished with brutalizing civilians and children.
Dr. Oz Almog, one of the most perceptive observers of Israeli society, says that until now, the intifada has not caused Israelis to leave the country, although it is causing those abroad not to hurry home. "The situation is very bad here, and people don't pick up and leave for a situation that's bad," he notes.
What worries Almog is the future -- if the military intelligence and economics experts are right in their predictions that both terror and recession are going to grow much worse. "There is something new going on: People are beginning to lose hope," he says.
If the crisis deepens, he says, "You won't need all Israelis to leave. If the highly educated young people begin to leave in substantial numbers, that will pose a threat to Israeli society."