PARIS — French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen recently stated that if she wins the election, she will ban French dual citizenship with non-European Union nations, barring Russia. Le Pen’s citizenship announcement quickly garnered backlash, particularly from Jews holding French-Israeli dual citizenship.
Le Pen, the leader of the National Front Party, is tough on immigration. She often notes that current immigration and citizenship laws are “too generous.” Le Pen’s citizenship proposal appears to be part of a “France first” policy that could create hardships for French-Israeli dual nationals.
The burden of such a decision would fall on the 150,000 French Jews estimated to live in Israel. Among those affected would be highly educated immigrants and those who still receive pensions. People working in France and living in Israel would feel its effects as well.
Dual citizenship policies are still in place for French Jews. Those policies are reinforced by Israel’s Law of Return. Passed in 1950, the Law of Return makes it relatively easy for Jews living abroad to obtain almost immediate citizenship in Israel. The law also fosters ease of migration between Israel and the European Union.
Le Pen’s citizenship announcement could stop such ease of migration in its tracks. Having to renounce dual citizenship would create a hurdle for French Jews should they want or need to emigrate to Israel. That obstacle on its own would not be insurmountable. The situation becomes more complex, however, when the importance of pensions for French-Israeli dual nationals is taken into account.
The number of people emigrating from France to Israel doubled from 2013 to 2014, with 6,600 people leaving that year. By 2015, at least 7,400 more French Jews made the move from France to Israel. Although numbers in 2016 decreased by 32 percent, France is still a frontrunner in terms of Israeli immigration. Pensioners over the age of 66 and highly educated people under 34 tend to lead the pack, further emphasizing the need for pensions.
French pensioners who move to Israel and maintain dual citizenship continue receiving pension payments from France. That source of income is all some of these dual nationals have. Le Pen’s citizenship announcement could create profound setbacks for pensioners. That bears significance because cultural assimilation can be difficult for French Jews living in Israel. Many simply cannot find work on the basis of language alone and count on their pensions to survive.
In the context of development, inability to hold dual citizenship also poses problems for people who participate in what political science professor Yitzhak Dahan calls the “Boeing Aliyah.” This phenomenon is characterized by people who move from France to Israel but return to France for work each week.
According to Hebrew University professor Sergio DellaPergola, about 60 percent of all new Israeli citizens earn the bulk of their income abroad for several years. There is a considerable number of French Jews among them.
Because travel between Israel and France currently exists with the full benefits of dual citizenship, those who have trouble finding work in Israel can continue working in France. Those people then bring their earnings back home to Israel.
Le Pen’s citizenship maneuver could affect Israel’s economic development by cutting off a stream of highly skilled workers in medicine, finance and engineering.
In 2014, an estimated 50 percent of French immigrants moving to Israel were highly educated and under the age of 34. For that reason, according to Mickael Bensadoun and Dafna Aviram-Nitzan, “their contribution to the Israeli economy is significant.”
Without the security of French citizenship, this influx of highly skilled workers could be at risk. Israeli officials and scholars fear that the potential of French immigration will not be realized if integration procedures fail to meet immigrants’ growing needs.
Bensadoun and Aviram-Nitzan suggest incentivizing young people to emigrate from France and providing all French immigrants with assimilation assistance. Such changes could increase the appeal of Israeli citizenship if people can no longer hold onto French citizenship for stability.
Le Pen’s citizenship announcement exists in a larger context of an isolationist policy that often disproportionately affects the Middle East. If Israeli officials improve the assimilation process for immigrants, however, French Jews may find it easier to choose Israel at a pivotal moment in the country’s development.
– Madeline Distasio