Cherryl Smith

Why Would Anyone Move to a Country at War?

Israel is experiencing a wave of new immigrants. A previous surge of immigration to Israel occurred in the early months of the Russia–Ukraine war when Israel accepted thousands of new arrivals from both countries trying to get away from the conflict. This time, however, Jews are choosing to move to Israel when Israel itself is at war.

Why would someone living in the US, Canada, or an EU country make this decision when people who had planned even a visit to Israel have canceled their trips and most tourists left immediately after the war began?

There are many people coming to Israel specifically to help the war effort, the largest group being Israelis who were living abroad. Within a little more than a week, Israel was able to call up thousands of reservists. Many others have come on their own to help the country any way they can. Individuals and groups are making trips to Israel to work in the fields and farms where foreign workers have left and Israeli workers are now serving in the army. Celebrities, too, have visited Israel creating a statement of solidarity by their presence. Yet, there is also a surprising number of people who not only want to help out as tourists but who have decided this is actually the time to move to Israel.

Even before the war, Israel had become the country where more Jews live than anywhere else in the world.  Around 75% of Israelis are Jewish, making a population in Israel of about six and a half million; about half a million fewer Jews live in the US which has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.  Communities in Britain, France and other European countries, in Canada, Australia, Argentina and elsewhere make up the other two million Jews around the world.

But antisemitism in the US, Canada, and Europe has been steadily rising for many years and has actually increased dramatically since the war began. So too has antisemitism at many universities.

Is it possible that a country at war, next door to terrorists who state outright that they want to kill all Jews and destroy Israel and who have recently enacted that goal with horrific attacks on civilians, with rapes, kidnappings, and rocket fire aimed at population centers, could actually be safer for Jews than other countries? To think so seems counterintuitive.  Yet, many Jews seem to have made this calculation.

Of course some new immigrants were already planning to move to Israel and simply continued with their plans in spite of the war. And safety is only one issue to consider when making such a move; Israel is a beautiful, dynamic country with much to recommend it in non-war times. Yet even moving within one’s own city or country is stressful. Moving across the world even more so, and to a country with a required draft for both women and men seems an especially daunting prospect.

However, for some new immigrants, the reality that Israel is endangered and fighting for its existence is actually a reason to immigrate.

In the two millennia during which they were called the “wandering Jews,” intolerance, violence and humiliation plagued the Jewish people in many parts of the world, first from Christian and later from Muslim Jew hatred. Although there were always Jews living in the land of Israel throughout the centuries, it was only in the 1800’s that the possibility for significant immigration began, and only after the end of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of British rule were larger numbers of Jews allowed to immigrate.

Yet, nowhere near enough immigration was allowed by the British to save Jews from the horrors of the Holocaust. Perhaps this history has been forgotten in the midst of the current war on Israel. Nevertheless, those who know history support the survival of Jews in their homeland. And they respect that when Israel is attacked, as it has been most horrifically starting on October 7, the IDF will defend the country.

That the United States does not have a state religion created an especially successful home for Jews. Let us hope that rising antisemitism in the US and in other countries will not continue; for Jews, like other citizens, should be able to live in their countries safely.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that for perhaps a surprising number of Jews, Israel, even in the midst of ongoing war is the most welcoming home.

About the Author
Cherryl Smith's new book is FRAMING ISRAEL, A Personal Tour of Media and Campus Rhetoric. She is professor emerita of rhetoric and composition at California State University, Sacramento. She has lived in Tel Aviv since 2016.
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