Immigration to Israel by Jews from U.S., France unusually high

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JERUSALEM - After years of stagnation, American Jewish immigration to Israel is on the rise again, with the number of people arriving this year expected to approach a 20-year-high, immigration officials said Tuesday.

In the first 10 months of the year, 2,240 Americans exercised their right to automatic Israeli citizenship, compared with 2,385 for the whole of 2003, said the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organization.

With at least 450 more people expected to immigrate by the end of 2004, the annual total will easily surpass last year's, and could beat the 2,827 immigrants from the United States that came in 1984, officials said. Jewish Agency chief Sallai Meridor said the trend was expected to continue.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s - following Israel's military success in the 1967 Middle East War - between 6,000 and 8,000 Jewish Americans immigrated annually. The number plummeted following the 1973 war, when Israel was caught by surprise and suffered heavy casualties.

Officials at Tuesday's news conference cited various reasons for the resurgence, including success stories filtering home from earlier American immigrants, more work by American and Israeli Jewish organizations to encourage immigration, an expanded Israeli job market and the steep cost of U.S. universities.

Economist Pinchas Landau said the U.S. immigrants brought valuable education, professional experience and work ethics to Israel.

''They are the creme de la creme of the most advanced society in the world,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Jewish immigration from France - where anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise - has reached its highest level in more than three decades.

The Jewish Agency said 2,236 French Jews immigrated between January and the end of October, up from 1,860 during the same period in 2003.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sparked a diplomatic row in July when he told visiting Jewish-American leaders that France was host to ''the wildest anti-Semitism.''