Four thousand new immigrants, a quarter of all immigrants who arrived in 2010, settled in the Negev and the Galilee, according to Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom.
Shalom spoke at the Immigrant Absorption Committee on Tuesday as part of a series of hearings marking the annual Negev and Galilee day at the Knesset.
Planting at Omer and Making the Negev Blossom
“This day, which is entirely dedicated to the vision of populating Israel’s periphery, is a new tradition that we are beginning today, and one which I am sure will become an ongoing practice in the years to come,” Shalom said. “Of course, one day a year is not enough and we must work at making the Negev and the Galilee a top national priority 365 days a year.”
Throughout the day, the minister, who is also vice premier and regional development minister, went from one committee to another, presented his ministry’s achievements and highlighted the challenges ahead.
At the Immigrant Absorption Committee, Shalom spoke about his ministry’s aid encouraging and assisting new immigrants to settle in the periphery.
“Among the various actions we are taking to draw new populations to the Negev and the Galilee, we grant an extended absorption package to immigrants who choose to make their homes in those areas. The plan, which was conducted in partnership with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, was a huge success drawing 4,000 new immigrants to the Negev and Galilee in the previous year. In 2011, we will double the amount of absorption packages for those who are interested in settling the Negev and Galilee. These people are modern pioneers who are manifesting the Zionist vision,” he said.
Shalom said that his ministry was actively encouraging new immigrants to settle in the North and the South, and had sent staff members abroad to meet with potential olim and guide them through all the immigration processes.
Other actions he took credit for included rent subsidies for people moving to the periphery, study grants for immigrant scientists, subsidies for factories that employ immigrants and linking Jewish Agency Masa programs to youth centers in the periphery.
Other speakers at the committee, including representatives of the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh, said that despite the relative success, there were still many challenges in convincing immigrants to settle in the South and the North, with the most urgent and difficult challenge being lack of sufficient housing.
At the Education Committee, Shalom spoke about the authorization of a new medical school to be built in Safed, saying it would produce 10,000 new jobs in the North and pave the way for the founding of a new university in the Galilee.
At the Finance Committee, Shalom heard from mayors from the Negev and Galilee about their need for tax breaks and additional government assistance in strengthening their towns.
At the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shalom stressed the importance of moving major IDF bases to the South and called on the Finance Ministry to cooperate with the defense establishment in finding solutions for funding.
Shalom said that as the minister in charge of the civilian aspects of the move, he was making sure that the region would be able to successfully absorb the thousands of families expected to follow the military to the South.
Shalom concluded the day by calling for a comprehensive shift in national priorities “away from military and defense and toward civilian interests.”
The day was wrapped up with a meeting featuring Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and MKs from across the country.
“Unlike many other issues, the need to develop the Negev and the Galilee has always been an issue found at the heart of the national consensus, but this principled agreement never saw the Negev and Galilee actually developed. In recent years, since the establishment of the Negev and Galilee Ministry, we have witnessed real progress,” Rivlin said. “Today nobody can doubt the necessity of this ministry.”
Livni, who is Shalom’s political rival, had nothing but compliments to say about his efforts to develop the periphery.
“I nearly always attend events that Silvan [Shalom] organizes. Unlike
other ministers I can think of, he is earnest in his intentions and
serious in his execution. Encouraging the development of the Negev and
Galilee is an aim that crosses party lines and is a key element of the
new Zionist vision,” she said.
In a jab to leaders on the right, Livni said, “The Negev and Galilee
have to be at the center of our focus and part of a comprehensive
worldview that deals with the new Zionist vision. It must also affect
The Negev and Galilee have to come before everything, before the Center,
but also before places that are controversial and, where left in the
air, without resolution.”