America’s population of Israeli expats has grown significantly in the last decade, according to new numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The figures show that just over 140,000 U.S. residents were born in Israel, a 30 percent increase over the figure from 2000, when an Israeli population of 109,720 was reported in the U.S. Among Israelis currently living in the United States, 90,179 have American citizenship, according to the Census.
As with almost any study involving demography and Israel, the Census numbers will generate a debate with Israeli government officials and others likely to suggest that the actual figures are much higher. A 2003 article in Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot cited a study by the Israeli foreign ministry that put the number of Israelis in America at half a million. A JTA report on the new Census findings noted that the Israeli Leadership Council, a group based in Los Angeles, puts the number of Israelis at 250,000 in that city alone. Substantial numbers of Israelis also live in the metropolitan areas of New York City, Boston, Miami and San Francisco.
What might explain the discrepancies in the numbers? Partly, explains the JTA, divergent definitions of who counts as an Israeli. The larger numbers may include Soviet-born Jews who passed through Israel on their way to the United States, as well as the children of Israeli expatriates, who are considered Israeli by the Israeli government but not necessarily by the U.S. Census Bureau.
As with other battles over Census numbers, political considerations may also play a role. Michigan State University sociologist Steven Gold, the author of the 2002 book “The Israeli Diaspora,” told JTA, “Official estimates of Israelis abroad, especially those released by the Jewish Agency or [Israel’s] Ministry of Absorption [rather than its more conservative Central Bureau of Statistics] are regarded as often exaggerated and inconsistent with data collected via systematic methods, perhaps because of an effort to draw attention to the issue of Israeli emigration.”
Whatever the true numbers, they appear to exceed the movement of Jews in the opposite direction. Jewish Agency numbers report that between 2000 and 2009, 23,640 American citizens made aliyah to Israel.