Israel has a long history of attaching negative stereotypes to immigrants. German Jews were said to be dry, humorless and pompous, while Russians were thought to be political radicals and hot-tempered. In the 1950s when the waves of immigration from Muslim countries reached their peak, prejudices bordering on racism portrayed the newcomers as primitive and backward.
There is also a stereotype of the Anglo immigrant.
English-speaking olim, particularly Americans, are perceived as rich and blinded by their idealism to the point of gullibility. It is well known in Israeli society that upon hearing an American accent, plumbers, electricians, building contractors and other service providers will up their fee, under the assumption that their prospective client has plenty of money to spare and the good-natured disposition that can easily be exploited to gain access to this money.
This stereotype of the Anglo immigrant as more a target to be fleeced than a person in need of help is deeply ingrained among many Israelis. That is why it was not particularly surprising to discover that this distorted view of the Anglo oleh has found its way into the Aliya and Integration Ministry.
An exclusive report by The Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent revealed that officials in the ministry believe immigrants to Israel from English-speaking countries have no unique needs and do not require special assistance.
Representatives said as much in correspondence with the Knesset Research Center ahead of a special session of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs Committee that focused on state authorities’ handling of English-speaking immigrants.
Responding to the ministry officials’ obtuse approach, Knesset committee chairman Avraham Neguise said, “There are outdated views in ministries that immigrants from English-speaking countries are rich and don’t need help. The truth is there are some who are really suffering.
We want to hear how they are getting over those outdated views and helping people.”
Both the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh do an amazing job of easing the initial transition into Israeli society. What happens after that, however, depends to a large degree on the circumstances of each individual immigrant. Those who lack Hebrew-language skills or social networks must rely on government offices that are often not equipped to help Anglo olim.
English-language job placement services, help in navigating Israel’s government offices and institutions, and tutorials in understanding Israeli mentality are all needed to help smooth immigrants’ move to Israel. Otherwise, Israel risks losing a large proportion of these immigrants who will opt to return to their country of origin if the obstacles placed in their way become too overwhelming.
Immigrants from English-speaking countries are in a unique position to improve Israeli society. They come from countries that tend to be free, open, and with lower levels of bureaucracy than Israel. The high cost of living, the difficulty of opening and running a business, and even the rudeness of many locals make living in Israel difficult for everyone, not just new immigrants. But because Anglos are intimately familiar with a culture more conducive to doing business that fosters a more pleasant environment for interactions among strangers, they are uniquely positioned to import this culture to Israel.
Like all stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth to the one that characterizes the English-speaking immigrant. They do tend to be in a stronger socioeconomic situation than immigrants from countries such as Ethiopia or Ukraine.
They also tend to be idealistic and used to living in societies with high levels of trust, which makes them seem gullible.
But none of this should get in the way of the Aliya and Integration Ministry’s central function: ensuring the smoothest possible integration of immigrants into Israel societies – Anglos included.
More than anything else, Israel depends for its success on its human resources. Great people are what makes Israel great. Attracting talented people – and making sure they stay – is essential to the success of Israel. Perpetuating stereotypes makes this job harder.