Covid-19 has finally made Israel into the safe haven for the Jewish people that the Zionist founding fathers envisaged.
The Jewish State was conceived as a safe haven from anti-Semitism but that has not always been the case. While it did indeed save the few European Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust who made it to Palestine during the British mandate, since 1945 life has been more perilous. If in Israel's formative years, the Arabs tried to drive the Jews into the sea, in more recent decades a war of attrition including suicide bombers and missiles has taken its toll on Israel.
Despite murderous attacks in recent years on Jewish targets in the US, France and elsewhere, the Diaspora with all its anti-Semitism has still been a safer place to be over the past 75 years.
That is until Covid-19 came along. Through quick decision making in sealing its borders (more easily done amid Israel's geopolitical isolation) and reasonable quality universal healthcare, Israel has succeeded where the US and Western European countries have failed.
Israelis are used to emergency drills and quickly adapting to dangerous developments and despite initial errors like allowing ultra-orthodox communities to continue religious gatherings and not identifying the danger to care homes in the first few weeks of the crisis, the results have been impressive.
It would be a gross understatement to say that the bottom line of 260 fatalities from Covid-19 is far better than the US and Western Europe. To put matters into perspective, the Jewish burial societies in the UK have reported 440 deaths from Covid-19, out of a Jewish community of around 300,000. In France the situation has been even worse with Jewish burial societies reporting over 1,300 deaths from the virus, out of a Jewish community of 500,000. 22 people died in one Amsterdam Jewish nursing home.
But these figures are dwarfed by the US and New York in particular. There are no precise figures for New York, the world's worst hot-spot for Covid-19. The New York Metropolitan area has a population of more than 1.5 million Jews out of a total population of 18.4 million - that would make 2,500 Jewish deaths proportionately speaking, although estimates are that fatalities among the ultra-Orthodox communities of New York City were far higher.
The high Jewish mortality rate has fueled anti-Semitism and blaming the Jews for spreading the virus. The tendency of ultra-Orthodox communities to ignore the law (both in Israel and the Diaspora) and participate in highly publicized illegal large gatherings has not helped the matter.
Ironically, Diaspora Jews without Israeli citizenship have not been able to benefit from Israel as a safe haven from the virus as Israel closed its borders to all non-Israelis in early March. However, the option of 'aliya,' immigrating to Israel has remained on the table throughout and 1,300 Jews have immigrated to Israel since early March, the Jewish Agency reports. Most of the new arrivals were people who had planned their immigration in advance rather than spontaneously fleeing the virus.
The Jewish Agency reports that there has been a 50% rise in applications in the US for 'aliyah' during the coronavirus crisis and estimates that there will be a 30% worldwide rise in immigration over the next two years, up from 34,000 in 2019.
This is still a drop in the ocean when considering that there are over 14 million Diaspora Jews eligible for immigration under the Law of Return.
At the same time an estimated 75,000 Israelis returned home during March and April after an extended stay abroad, as the Ministry of Interior put it. But most of these were young Israelis on post-army world trips rather than the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have been out of the country for many years and built new lives elsewhere.
It seems that most Jews are not interested in a safe haven.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 13, 2020
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