The structure of the government’s new proposed aliya initiative were confirmed to The Jerusalem Post this week with an exclusive leak of a draft document intended for presentation to the cabinet.
The initiative, which would see Israel establish a new non-governmental corporation to oversee European, and especially Ukrainian, immigration, first came to light last Friday with a report in the Hebrew media.
It subsequently drew fire from the Jewish Federations of North America, whose leaders complained to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the plan would cause significant damage to the Jewish Agency.
The plan calls for the new corporation to be owned jointly by the four “national institutions” of Keren Hayesod, JNF, the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.
According to the draft obtained by the Post, the initiative would be funded by a one hundred million shekel grant from the Jewish National Fund, a claim denied by the body earlier this week. The draft plan, if approved, would grant the government permission to accept funds from the Zionist body for the new corporation.
In a statement to the Post on Thursday, a spokesman for the JNF reiterated that “KKL-JNF has not made any decision in regards to the matter,” adding that his organization “sees the utmost importance in encouraging aliya and strengthening ties between the Jewish communities and Israel.”
The document also stated that if approved, Keren Hayesod would be tapped to raise any additional funds required.
A source within Keren Hayesod stated that since there is no government approval yet for the plan, there is no substance to discuss.
Under the plan, the Ministry of Aliya and Immigrant Absorption would four seats on an eight person steering committee that would oversee the new corporation. The Director General of the Ministry, as one of those four, would have the power to cast a second vote in the case of a deadlock within the committee, a source familiar with the matter told the Post.
Out of the one hundred million shekel budget for the program, thirty million would go to the Ministry of Aliya and Immigrant Absorption and seventy million would go directly to the new corporation. If approved, the draft would allow the government to JNF money, which would not come from funds raised abroad.
Under the proposal, the Ministry would be tasked with providing bigger budgets to organizations that promote aliyah abroad, provide employment services i the fields of high technology, engineering, science, medicine and education, engaging in marketing targeting potential immigrants and increasing the benefits granted to refugees from emergency zones such as eastern Ukraine.
Past experience shows that putting in more resources proves itself and raises the number of immigrants and returning citizens, the document claimed.
According to a source familiar with the matter, the new corporation could be up and running in a matter of months and, while the plan stated that it would only be operative through the end of 2015, “inertia” would likely extend its lifespan once established.
The plan is intended to “bring everything regarding aliyah encouragement” under one roof,” the source said, adding that it is expected to come before the cabinet shortly.
Legal constraints connected to foreign governments encouraging citizens of sovereign states to emigrate prevent Israel from directly appealing to Jews in the Diaspora to make aliya and this role has traditionally been the exclusive bastion of the Jewish Agency. The other bodies listed in the plan as co-owners of the new corporation have no significant aliyah promotion assets on the ground and the source confirmed that “some” of those working on the new plan would be agency employees already on the ground.
“There will not be a big logistical change in what’s on the ground,” he said.
By gaining effective control of the steering committee, the Ministry of Aliya and Immigrant Absorption may well have a much larger say in Jewish Agency activities going forward.
“The World Zionist Organization is heartened by the Government's heightened commitment to encouraging aliya, evident in this new initiative. We are also gratified by its recognition of the essential and unique role that the World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) have to play in assuring its success,” World Zionist Organization Vice Chairman Dr. David Breakstone told the Post on Thursday. “Furthermore, we note with satisfaction that the steering committee overseeing the enterprise will be comprised of an equal number of government representatives on the one hand and of representatives of the National Institutions on the other. The latter will also be the sole owners of the body charged with implementing the scheme.”
Changing the relationship between the Jewish Agency and the state, he said, will be a positive development.
“Certainly there is an argument to be made that the Jewish Agency might have continued to be entrusted with the exclusively responsibility for bringing Jews to Israel, which has been its sacrosanct mission since its founding 85 years ago. The newly proposed paradigm, however, will allow for the allocation of greater resources and the harnessing of multiple energies in undertaking this sacred task, so vital to both the interests of the State of Israel and the fulfillment of the Zionist dream. We understand and are sympathetic to the concerns raised by our overseas leadership, but are convinced that ongoing negotiations, conducted in an atmosphere of good will and mutual respect, will result in understandings satisfactory to all the parties concerned.”
Its their letter to Netanyahu this week, the leaders of the Jewish Federations stated that the Jewish Agency “must continue to be the exclusive body to deal with aliya” and any changes to that status “will have dire consequences for our collective efforts to support our work.”
The JFNA significantly reduced its funding of the agency at its General Assembly in 2011.
In a letter to members of the agency board of governors this week, chairman Natan Sharansky sought to allay concerns, stating that the new plan “will not affect any of our current aliya responsibilities or the government’s relationship with us, as responsible for aliya worldwide.”
Asked about the leaked resolution, a spokesman for the Ministry of Aliya and Immigrant Absorption told the Post that “we are currently working on all aspects of the plan and when we will have news we will update the public.”