OPINION: It’s wrong to suggest there are only 25,000 Israelis in the UK

OPINION: It’s wrong to suggest there are only 25,000 Israelis in the UK

Anat Koren 2015
Anat Koren

by Anat Koren

This month, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), published a study of the Israeli population in the UK.

It raised headlines in the UK Jewish press, as it showed that for every two British people who made aliyah, three Israelis emigrated to Britain.

Among Israelis and their institutions in the UK, it was the total number of 25,000 that was surprising.

The research was based on the 2011 census, which had, for the first time, asked questions about UK immigration.

This research seems positive about a vibrant Israeli life in the UK, so why do so few Israelis and bodies that deal with Israelis in the UK believe it represents the reality?

Firstly, the census, on which it was based, is already five years old and a lot has happened since.

Most importantly, there is the inclusion in the European Union of two Eastern European countries, Bulgaria and Romania, which easily give Israelis who have a connection with either country an EU passport and a “free movement of labour” entry into Britain.

Not surprisingly, EU/Israeli passport holders, beat a path to much better paid jobs, in the only English speaking country in the EU.

Five-hour cheap flights for family visits make Britain the most popular destination for aspiring immigrants and their families. The US may be the dream, but visa and green cards make it possible only for the few. None of these new EU passport holding immigrants are counted in any statistics gathered by the UK authorities as Israelis.

Another change is the rapid take-off since 2011 of the ‘start-up nation’. This has meant that there is now a constant flow of Israeli start-up companies to ‘Silicon Roundabout’ and other high-tech centres. Those Inital Public Offerings and venture capital funds also bring more Israelis to the city and financial services.

The other group that would not even have shown in the 2011 census, are Israelis that are not “sabras”, but born in other countries, for example Russia, which alone makes up more than 20 percent of the Israeli population in Israel, and is the most mobile part in terms of emigration.

The last and possibly the most difficult factor to allow for are Israelis and their families who do not want to stand out, particularly in London, and go to extraordinary lengths to hide their origin.

Anecdotally, those who were in the UK and remember the 2011 census often admit hiding any connection to Israel on the form. 

It has to be remembered that in 2011 we saw the continuing increase of anti-Semitism and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in London, including the forced closure of the Ahava shop in Covent Garden, as a result of weekly demonstrations outside it and violent demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy, all as a reaction to Operation Cast Lead.

This was definitely not a year in which Israelis in the UK, particularly in London, felt safe enough to publicly declare their nationality.

All of us who deal day to day with Israelis who have settled in the UK, either temporarily or for a longer period, know that this worthy report, through no fault of the authors, majorly underestimates the real numbers of Israelis living in the UK.

The Israelis who have decided to live in the UK are a valuable asset to the British Jewish community and, in the light of the last JPR report on the increase in the Charedi community, may also be a valuable balancing factor to the Jewish community.

Hopefully the larger numbers of Israelis will translate into greater interaction with British Jewish society and the breaking of the stereotypes that have been created over the years.

The report is also a warning to the leaders of the Jewish community. Even with the dubiously low number of Israelis mentioned in this report, they still constitute more than six percent of the total Jewish population in the UK. Yet they have no representation on the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council or the Jewish Federation. This is truly a scandal.

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