Former foreign minister Abba Eban once said: “Zionism is nothing more – but also
nothing less – than the Jewish People’s sense of origin and destination in the
land linked eternally with its name. It is also the instrument whereby the
Jewish nation seeks an authentic fulfillment of itself.”
times to this very day, Zionism, the national liberation of the Jewish People,
has been inexorably linked with aliya, the physical fulfillment of the movement.
It is certainly no coincidence that among the first laws promulgated by the
newly reestablished Jewish state was the “Law of Return” mandating that every
Jew has a right to return to their ancestral homeland.
Today, while some
see aliya as a promise which has largely reached fulfillment, or as an
increasingly less relevant tenet of government policy, I believe aliya and
absorption must remain at the forefront of the Israeli government’s
For this very reason, I am honored to be the first immigrant
absorption minister serving for two consecutive terms in the history of the
State of Israel. I firmly believe Israel’s immigration absorption policies
remain a vital pillar of our nation’s success and endurance and I wanted the
opportunity to ensure that for the coming years.
Aliya is a national
mission and I am proud to be given the opportunity to continue and even improve
upon some of our important achievements of the past few years. In recent years,
the Immigrant Absorption Ministry has spent around NIS 20 million a year to
bring 74,000 Jews home and fund around 75 percent of all activities connected to
aliya and absorption.
These resources have been used in numerous
productive ways and we are proud of our firm commitment and constant
contribution to aliya, with the help of some of the organizations which we
assist such as the Jewish Agency for Israel and Nefesh B’Nefesh.
government organization it is forbidden for us to address the issue of
emigration with foreign nationals from around the world. However, in 2010, due
to a proposal I submitted, incentivizing and assisting Israeli citizens’ return
home became a prime national goal of the Israeli government.
created a unique project for maintaining contact with Israelis living outside
Israel – the “Israeli House.” Its main purpose is to offer counseling and
guidance for those interested in returning home, and to provide personal support
and counseling in planning the return. There are 15 of these centers around the
world, with 11 in North America alone.
Since the campaign began, almost
40,000 Israelis have returned to live in Israel, the vast majority of whom came
from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and France. Well over 1,000 of
these returnees enlisted in the IDF.
We have also literally streamlined
aliya. The absorption process at Ben-Gurion International Airport has been
upgraded and about half an hour after the immigrants’ arrival at the ministry’s
wing in the airport, they enter Israel with the following: A certificate of
immigration, an ID card, an “absorption basket,” a health insurance form for
registration with a health fund and a form to open a bank account. The process
is completed together with a guide speaking the immigrant’s native
Anyone, such as myself, who made aliya over four years ago
knows well how long and arduous this process was
Additionally, while every Jew is more than welcome, our
ministry has focused on an aliya of contribution.
We have understood the
state’s needs and brought home some 4,400 engineers, which has saved the economy
about NIS 1.2 billion, and the immigration of some 2,000 doctors which saved the
economy around NIS 750 million. These and many other experienced and
highly-educated professionals have created a “brain-gain” for the State of
Israel, especially necessary during the past few years of global
Meeting our nation’s needs was also the reason behind the
ministry’s project to encourage thousands of new immigrants to settle in the
Negev and the Galilee and ensuring that many new immigrants find support and
guidance while serving in the army.
However, we also understand that new
immigrants need greater financial and social assistance.
In the past four
years, we restarted a policy stopped 20 years ago, and built subsidized homes
for 4,000 new olim, with thousands more being built in the near future. We have
doubled the monthly rental assistance for new immigrants and launched a program
for youth-at-risk in 50 local authorities throughout the
Additionally, we offer generous tuition grants for those
immigrants who wish to pursue higher education through the Israel Student
Authority. Moreover, we provide information and advice to students still abroad
and assist students to study successfully and integrate into Israeli academia by
running programs for social integration to encourage a sense of belonging and
This is only the beginning of the aliya revolution I am seeking
to introduce, not only for immigrants or returnees themselves, but also for the
nation of Israel as a whole. Aliya is a national mission, but it is a means to
an end. The end remains the strengthening of our nation and its people and
invigorating and strengthening the national home.
As I leave my office, I
look upon the pictures of all my predecessors, each of whom contributed
enormously to the biblically-inspired “ingathering of the
However, at the beginning of the 21st century we need to
maintain the relevance of aliya, especially in the West where the vast majority
of Diaspora Jews currently reside. For this reason, I will be traveling to the
US in the near future to learn and listen and hopefully open the next chapter in
the practical means of attaining Zionist goals which Abba Eban described as the
Jewish nation’s “authentic fulfillment of itself.”The writer is Israel’s
immigrant absorption minister.