Harris, Brent David. “Beyond Guilt and Stigma: Changing Attitudes among Israeli Migrants in Canada.” International Migration 53.6 (2015): 41-56.
Over 60 years ago, the Jewish nationalist movement known as Zionism culminated in the creation of the State of Israel. Millions of Jews immigrated to Israel over the twentieth century, a process known as aliya (literally, “going up”). Yet over the years, thousands of Israelis have also chosen to leave Israel in a movement termed yerida (“going down”). As the term suggests, this reverse migration has been highly stigmatized. During the 1960s and 1970s, emigrants were publicly disparaged in the Israeli media for having abandoned a struggling state. Consequently, Israeli migrants suffered strong feelings of guilt that often, hampered their integration process abroad, a phenomenon observed as late as the 1990s. This paper, however, reveals that feelings of stigmatization have greatly decreased among Israeli migrants in recent years. The study is based on research that I conducted in 2008–2009, involving nine months of participant observation in Vancouver’s Israeli community and 34 in-depth interviews. Unlike in previous studies, most of my informants expressed no feelings of guilt over having left Israel. Of those who did, most framed their guilt as a longing for family and friends rather than the patriotic longing for the land as expressed by previous generations. Previous studies have also found that Israelis harbour a “myth of return”– a continuously expressed desire to return to Israel and a reluctance to accept their stay abroad as permanent. However, I have not found that the myth of return is still strong today, despite the continued prevalence of a strong sense of Israeli identity among Israelis abroad. I suggest that these changing attitudes are the product of shifting ideals in Israeli society that have developed as the state of Israel has matured. This paper thus serves to update the outdated image of Israeli migrants as it exists in the prevailing literature.