As tens of thousands of Israelis continue to join weekly protests over the government’s highly controversial plans to change the justice system, as many as one in three citizens is thinking of leaving the country, according to a poll.
Professor Chen Hofmann is one of them. Together with his wife and their children, they start the Jewish Sabbath with a meal together every Friday evening. Nowadays they end it at a huge anti-government rally.
“It’s not our ritual to go and protest in the streets but we’re forced to because we’re losing our country, that’s how we feel,” says the doctor, while attending the weekly Saturday night demonstration in central Tel Aviv.
The leading Israeli radiologist is now in the process of moving to a hospital in the UK. Moreover, he is trying to persuade other members of his family, who all have European passports, to consider leaving too.
“I’m going to London for a sabbatical, and this will be my laboratory to see if I can live outside Israel,” he explains. “If the situation will be so bad – and it’s worsening every day – we’ll find a new place to live.”
Among the crowds blowing horns and waving Israeli flags on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, there is fury at legislation being passed to limit the power of the Supreme Court.
Protesters believe it endangers democracy. However, Israel’s hard-line governing coalition argues that its actions enhance democracy, by fixing a judicial system in which elected politicians are too easily overruled.
While the demonstrators still hope new laws can be overturned, many admit that emigrating is something they, or those close to them, have thought about.
“It would be heart-breaking but I will not raise my kids in a country which is not democratic,” says Sarah, a mother at the protest.
“If I can’t be sure that my daughter’s rights as a young woman are guaranteed, we will not stay here”.
Israeli relocation experts say that in the past few months, they have witnessed a spike in business. The expected negative economic fallout of the government’s judicial changes and rising living costs are also push factors for those seeking to leave.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for information: we want to move to another country, how do we start the process?” says Shay Obazanek, a manager at one major firm, Ocean Relocation. “People with foreign passports who are able to move, ask for advice.”
Ruth Nevo, a Portugal-based relocation specialist, has begun to see Israeli customers for the first time. “It’s been absolutely insane, from none for years to, like, 25 enquiries a day,” she says.
“And the people who are enquiring are very well-educated. I’m talking about lawyers, judges, policemen, university lecturers, IT people; they’re just very concerned about what’s going on.”
International trends suggest that most people who look into emigrating for political reasons do not end up following through. Before and after the election of Donald Trump in 2016, many Americans who had initially threatened to move abroad abandoned their efforts.
However, in Israel, the recent political turmoil has opened up deep social divisions and raised alarm about shifting demographics. The current coalition government relies on ultra-Orthodox Jews and religious nationalists who have socially conservative values and represent fast-growing parts of the population because of their relatively high birth rates.