“Jews in France and around the world need to know that the State of Israel says in a clear voice that your place is with us,” Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver (Likud Beytenu) said at a meeting of the Knesset Caucus for French Immigrants on Wednesday.
Representatives of various French immigrant organizations attended the meeting, which was chaired by MK Yoni Chetboun (Bayit Yehudi), caucus head and the son of French immigrants. Chetboun called for “long term cooperative action” to bring French Jews to Israel.
In March, the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption announced would allocate $4-5 million for activities and programs run by the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization and the United Israel Appeal aimed at promoting French aliya.
According to ministry figures there are some 700,000 people in France eligible to come to Israel under the Law of Return.
Some 3,120 French Jews moved to Israel in 2013, up from 1,916 in 2012, according to figures released by the ministry in December.
On Sunday the cabinet approved the establishment of a new corporation for the promotion of immigration to be jointly owned by the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, as well as the formation of an inter-ministerial committee tasked with seeking solutions to ease the transition for new immigrants.
During his remarks at the Knesset on Wednesday, Chetboun called for a “genuine dialogue” between the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption and non-governmental organizations that promote French aliya.
Landver, herself an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, told attendees that the initiatives approved by the cabinet earlier in the week were the government’s way of telling world Jewry that their place was “with us, and not in Canada or the United States.”
Her remarks echoed those of MK Moshe Mizrahi (Labor), who earlier in the day told a delegation of European Jewish leaders that “the best way to combat anti-Semitism is to be here in Israel.”
“I call everyone abroad if they want to avoid [anti-Semitism] to come here,” Mizrahi said. “We will welcome you and hug you and we are one part of one big family.”
Landver and Mizrahi’s comments are at odds with statements made by Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, who both, while promoting aliya, have called on Israelis to recognize that not all Jews abroad are going to come.
Speaking to a crowd of primarily North American Jewish leaders last November, Bennett said that in Israel, “We typically view the world as a source of aliya and a big fat wallet, and that’s got to change.” At the same event, Sharansky asserted that Israel was seeking to eradicate what he called its “paternalistic approach” in which Israelis “felt that we are saving world Jewry by giving them the opportunity to make aliya.”
Only by strengthening Jewish identity in communities abroad, the two believe, will further mass aliya be feasible.
According to Chetboun, the government’s decision to appoint a committee to look at ways of transferring academic degrees and professional accreditations will “open the door to immigrants from France.”
In a meeting with Bennett on Wednesday, Vladimir Sloutzker, president of the Israeli-Jewish Congress, brought up the issue of what he called “dated immigration procedures.”
According to Sloutzker, aliya is needlessly complicated and the Israeli bureaucracy, especially regulations precluding new immigrants from receiving passports immediately upon their arrival, serves as a deterrent to many from industrialized countries.
He also cited residency requirements for some immigration benefits as being problematic for those seeking to commute to work abroad or live in two countries simultaneously.
Immigration today, Sloutzker concluded, is a radically different beast than when the regulations governing new citizens were drafted.
Bennett tasked one of his senior aides to examine the issue.
“I want some work done and presented to me within a month of what are the actual obstacles and how we go about solving them,” the minister told the aide. “I’ll take a look at this. It took 40 years the first time to enter Israel. It shouldn’t take that long again.”