Why the ministry's new plan has its priorities all wrong

Every week, the Knesset hears from olim struggling to eke out a living.

October 15, 2007 23:06
3 minute read.
french olim 88 298

french olim 88 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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As a child growing up in England, I don't think a year went by without my Israeli-born and raised father announcing that we should get ready to return to his homeland. Every summer we spent here there would always be at least one day where we would check out potential places to live, only to pack up our bags at the end of the vacation and go home to London. With Israel being such a big part of our lives, however, it is not surprising that myself and my two siblings (and now five members of the next generation) have all ended up here, but for my father - 40 years after he left Israel to seek his fortune - is still uncertain whether he really wants to come back. There was a reason why he left in the first place, be it economic or ideological, and tax breaks, extra loans and catchy slogans from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry are unlikely to bring him back. What might sway him, though, is if he believed that life here would provide him with as many opportunities as in England - and, believe me, he is still nowhere near to making his first million. While the plan unveiled Monday by Immigrant Absorption Ministry Director-General Erez Halfon to focus its efforts - and NIS 50 million of its budget - on bringing back 15,000 yordim, Israelis living in the US, South America, France and South Africa, in time for the country's 60th anniversary in May is commendable - Israel after all was founded on mass aliya - but it might be much more pertinent is if the ministry actually did its designated job. According to figures from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, more than one-third of Ethiopian immigrants living here have active welfare files; police announced recently an alarming rise in anti-Israel and pro-Nazi sentiment among immigrants from the former Soviet Union; and many of those immigrants, trained as brain surgeons and nuclear scientists and the like, are employed as security guards and supermarket staff. Even in the English-speaking immigrant community, the new trend is either to telecommute or to physically commute to jobs in the US after making aliya. Every week, the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee hears from olim struggling to eke out a living or from those who, even after many years in the country, still do not speak acceptable Hebrew. And we are no doubt all familiar with the stories of Interior Ministry bureaucracy or Employment Office stupidity. It is the responsibility of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to help these people navigate these challenges and assist them on the path to smooth integration into Israeli society. Even on its own Web site, the ministry clearly states that its mission is to "provide government assistance to new immigrants and to returning residents... to assist immigrants from the day they enter the country, striving to facilitate their full integration into every area of Israeli society." So why is Halfon's - and presumably Immigrant Absorption Ya'acov Edri's - new plan to focus on promoting aliya? Or, moreover, promoting it to those who already want to come back, to those, like my father, who think about it almost every day anyway? In his presentation of the plan, Halfon stressed that former Israelis are more likely to have a much smoother transition pro-cess: they speak Hebrew and acclimatize much quicker than other immigrants. So is the ministry essentially saying it is giving up on the more difficult task of helping those immigrants from Ethiopia, the FSU or the West? Are they admitting that, after 60 years of aliya, Israel still has no idea how to absorb new immigrants efficiently? Of course, there are plans to increase Hebrew language studies among olim and expand activities for at-risk immigrant youth. There is even mention of more work placements and job training programs, but these are all mentioned as a side note. Surely these issues should be the ministry's core focus. Why else does such a ministry exist and why bring more immigrants if we cannot successfully absorb the ones already here?

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