Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich on Monday expressed skepticism over Jerusalem’s new plan to encourage immigration from Europe. Speaking with The Jerusalem Post by phone from Kiev, Bleich questioned the necessity for the program, asserting that he feels it would be ineffective in increasing aliya from his country.
According to reports in the Hebrew press, the government will soon vote on establishing a new initiative to coax European Jews to come here in light of rising anti-Semitism on the continent.
The new organization will be a private, non-governmental body overseen by a steering committee led by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. It will be a “wholly owned subsidiary company of the national institutions,” Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Natan Sharansky wrote in a letter to members of the agency’s board of governors on Monday. The national institutions in question, he wrote, are the Keren Hayesod, Jewish National Fund, World Zionist Organization, and the Jewish Agency.
The initiative will have a special focus on Ukraine and will offer financial inducements, including a NIS 15,000 grant and vocational aid, for those leaving high-risk areas.
Citing Jewish Agency figures boasting a 150 percent rise in aliya from Ukraine since the country began experiencing Russian intervention and instability, Bleich asked why such incentives are necessary if aliya is increasing? “Over the last 25 years the largest component of aliya from any single country has been from Ukraine, more than Russia even. I really think that a lot of people who really want to make aliya made aliya already,” Bleich said.
“I think the people that want to make aliya now are going to make aliya. I don’t know if these incentives are going to work, because if people want to leave, they’re going to leave. If people don’t want to leave, they have a reason why they don’t want to leave and usually it’s not financial.”
There are thousands of Jews living in the parts of Ukraine’s industrial east that are controlled by pro-Russian separatists, including 11,000 Jews in the city of Donetsk, the center of the insurgency where recent fighting has left scores of combatants dead.
Jewish residents of Donetsk recently told the Post that, while they are not fearful of anti-Semitism, rising violence and communal insolvency pose a significant threat.
The Jewish National Fund on Monday denied claims it is providing some NIS 100 million for the initiative. In his letter to his board of governors, Sharansky wrote, “Shortly before the Shavuot holiday, the government informed us that JNF was willing to offer NIS 100 million to the government of Israel for aliya encouragement.”
However, a spokeswoman for the JNF told the Post that her organization “will not and is not transferring a single dollar” and that a press release will be issued if such a decision is made.
A source close to a senior administrator within the JNF agreed, saying there had been no approval for such a grant. In response, the Jewish Agency stated that it had gotten its information from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.
A spokesman for the ministry expressed uncertainty at the JNF statement, saying, “I don’t know why they are saying they don’t know about it. According to the [cabinet] resolution that I have, the funding should come from the JNF.”
According to Sharansky, the initiative “will not be brought before the cabinet before next week,” as widely expected.