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Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current term has worried a lot of Israelis. While Israel has been labeled the one democratic state in the Middle East, there are concerns that the broad judicial reforms just passed will drastically damage Israel’s democracy. This has led to Israelis leaving the nation to move to Cyprus. Cyprus is the EU’s closest member state to the Middle East and also has received Lebanese citizens fleeing the nation following the financial crisis.
Cyprus has become a popular destination for Israelis due to its proximity to Israel making it easy for Israelis to fly home and visit family. A flight from the island to Israel only takes 40 minutes, meaning Israelis spend more time at the airport than in the air. This has led the number of Israelis to increase from only 300-400 in 2003 to 12,000 in 2023. Besides the political situation in Israel, the security situation is also a motivator for immigrants who have arrived to Cyprus as there are no rocket attacks on the island. This is a large difference from Israel and Palestine which routinely exchange attacks. Israelis also do not face antisemitic hate as they may face in other nations. Cyprus also has similar weather to Israel making it easier for Israelis to adjust.
Resentment On The Island
Some Cypriot citizens are not thrilled about the arrival of Israelis due to housing prices increasing. Israelis moving to Cyprus have primarily relocated to Limassol and Larnaca. Immigration from Israel increased sharply during the pandemic as Israelis realized they could pay half the price for rent than back home in Israel and even possibly have a villa that comes with a pool. Israel’s population density is 424 people per square kilometer, meanwhile the population density of Cyprus is 136 people per square kilometer. This however has partially caused home prices to increase in Limassol by 9.3 percent in the past year while home prices in Larnaca increased by 9.4 percent. Despite the fact that the European Central Bank increased interest rates, this has not impacted the housing demand in Cyprus. This increase in housing prices will increasingly become an issue for Cypriots if salaries do not keep up with housing prices, as has been a challenge elsewhere in the world.
The Forgotten Jewish Colony Proposal
In the late 1800s, it was proposed that a Jewish colony would be established in Cyprus. At the Third Zionist Congress in 1899, it was proposed that a Jewish State could be established in Cyprus and eventually moved to Israel later. This however would never occur and the Jewish population during the 1900s in Cyprus was very small.
Rather than move to Cyprus to create a Jewish state, some Israelis moved to the island in the 1930s due to citrus orchards doing poorly in the Middle East primarily due to expensive land labor costs. The largest effort was led by Simcha Ambash, whose family operated citrus production in Cyprus between 1933-1973. The orchards eventually became completely Cypriot owned.
Cyprus also saw 50,000 Jewish temporary residents kept in internment camps between 1946-1948. Great Britain at that time ruled over Cyprus and Palestine and wanted to keep these Jews from resettling in the Middle East. Most of the Jews that were kept in the internment camps on Cyprus were all Holocaust survivors. The internment camps in Cyprus were closed with the establishment of the Israeli state and the Jews were allowed to relocate. Over 80 percent of the Jews in these camps were between 12-35 and 8,000 Jews were orphans. 2,000 children were born in the camps. The British army provided medical care but the holocaust survivors needed more treatment than the army could provide. Doctors from Israel came in order to help provide medical care to the children and survivors that the British army could not.
There were two types of internment camps, summer camps and winter camps. 400 Jews died in the camps largely believed due to the poor conditions. While not free to leave, these internment camps were drastically different from the concentration camps in World War II. Synagogues were constructed in the camp and instruction was provided on various topics related to Jewish culture and faith. An orchestra and choir were founded and people were able to participate in sculpture making workshops. The last of the detainees left in February 1949, who were men of fighting age. They were not allowed to leave while the rest were in 1948 due to concerns that there would be a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East if men able to fight in a military were allowed to immigrate to Israel. The Haapalah Museum, a Jewish museum founded recently in Larnaca has an original winter camp barrack on display for vistors to see.
Cyprus’ Investment Scheme
Besides proximity, relatively stable political situation, and similar weather, Cyprus also makes it easier for people to immigrate compared to other EU member states. Simply purchasing a home worth 300,000 or more euros gives foreigners the right to a permanent residency permit in two months. You must also deposit 30,000 euros in a Cypriot bank account and hold it there for three years. Your annual minimum income must be 30,000 euros and an extra 5,000 euros for your spouse and other dependents. If you want to have your parents live with you or your spouse’s parents, you must earn an extra 8,000 euros a year. In the past Cyprus offered a golden visa but this has no longer been an option since 2020. Once granted the permanent residency permit, it is very easy to maintain. You do not need to primarily live in Cyprus. Instead, you must only visit for a minimum of one day every two years. The permanent residency permit is valid for life. The permanent residency permit also offers a pathway to Cypriot citizenship, but it requires seven years of uninterrupted residency in Cyprus. The hardest condition of the permanent residency permit is that your income must come from abroad and your are not allowed to get a job in Cyprus.
As the judicial reform in Israel was just passed, time will tell if it motivates a larger number of Israelis to continue to immigrate to Cyprus. While there is a lack of antisemitism currently, it will be important to see whether this continues or if Israelis will start facing backlash if the number of immigrants continues to increase, pushing housing prices in Cyprus rise even further.
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