A growing exodus of young Israelis to Berlin has not only shocked Israel’s far right leadership but has highlighted the growing disillusionment with Zionism among Israel’s younger generation.
As Israeli commentators noted, the trend would encourage the late Israeli leader, Yitzhak Rabin to turn in his grave. He once described those who fled Israel as a “cascade of wimps” and a “fallout of cowards.” Ravit Hecht, a columnist with Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, has blamed ultranationalists for the exodus, and there may well be substance to her claim. “Berlin is a lovely city, but it is sucking away all the forces that we desperately need here, especially now,” she wrote. Of course, it’s not Berlin that’s doing the sucking, but Israel, in a different sense of the word.
The recent outrage in Israel about what has become a developing trend was sparked by what at first seemed an absurd Facebook posting by Asaf Lev, a 25-year-old former Israeli soldier living in Berlin. On his Facebook page, he posted his grocery list to show how much cheaper the cost of living was in Germany. One of the food items on his list was “Milky,” a copycat of a German pudding produced in Israel that costs much less in Berlin. The posting went viral and was taken up by thousands of young Israelis in Germany, many of whom appealed to Israeli youth back home to join them in Berlin where life was cheaper and free of the all the stresses in Israel, including mandated military service.
Within days, social media forums carried the story of the grocery list and highlighted fact as many as 30,000 young Israelis now lived in Berlin. That figure, however, may be on the low side because large numbers of Israelis arrive in Germany using European and not Israeli passports. Some studies have concluded Israelis hold 100,000 German passports. A common feature of Israeli life nowadays is more and more people have two passports, often European, Canadian or American. The second passport offers the freedom to relocate at any time, and as far back as 2008, one study concluded 59% of Israelis were thinking of leaving the country.
But missing in all the hoopla was the fact the exodus to Germany reflected the findings of several studies showing disenchantment among Israelis with their Zionist lifestyle. A 2012 survey by Ha’aretz found that almost 40% of Israelis were considering emigrating. A March 24, 2014 study commissioned by the Zionist Council in Israel showed around 25% of young, secular Israelis wanted to make a life away from Israel.
Rarely mentioned in mainstream media news coverage of Israel is its growing population of poor and the fact it has the highest percentage of poor of developed world countries, higher even than Mexico and Turkey. Were it not for its weapons industry, the billions of dollars it receives annually in United States taxpayer dollars and the massive sums of money wealthy American Jews transfer to Israel through questionable means and by way of so-called non-profits, the country’s economy would be at rock bottom. The other factor driving young people from Israel is the expanding power of its ultranationalists, many of whom have been encouraged to settle in Israel from parts of Asia and Eastern Europe to fill the void left by those who are leaving and to increase the country’s population as it seizes more Palestinian land and builds settlements on it.
Israel is also losing its battle to keep its brightest at home. Many of them see no future in a country whose leadership has become increasingly extreme and isolated from the rest of the world.