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Abstract

Despite their impressive patterns of economic mobility and generally successful adaptation into Western host societies, Israeli emigrants frequently view their stay abroad through the perspective of Zionism. As such, they express ambivalence about their presence on foreign soil. They seldom describe themselves as host country nationals, commonly socialize with other Israelis, frequently describe their intentions to return home, and often do so.

However, recent events may challenge this outlook. During the 1990s, Israel’s significant demographic and economic growth, relatively peaceful relations with neighbouring countries and increasingly globalized economy had the effect of lessening the stigma on going abroad. Then, since the fall of 2000, Israel has been rocked by the Al Aksa Intifada, as well as a major recession. These events have made life more difficult for Israelis. Accordingly, conditions of the last several years can be seen as altering Israelis’ motives for emigration and simultaneously shifting the probability of return among those already overseas.

While a topic of interest in its own right, the experience of Israeli emigrants since late 2000 also offers a natural experiment for evaluating how theories about migrant transnationalism consider the consequences of specific events upon relations with citizens abroad.

This paper relies on in-depth interviews and other data sources to explore Israeli emigrants’ views about remaining in host societies versus returning to Israel since late 2000. In so doing, it considers how emigrants evaluate potential benefits, costs and feelings of identification associated with residence overseas versus Israel. The paper also seeks more general insights into how relations between migrants and the country of origin are altered when events affect political and economic conditions in the country of origin.