(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver’s announcement that a program aimed to bring French Jews to Israel will be expanded to include Ukrainians has drawn harsh criticism, Army Radio reported Monday.
Following the deaths of four Jews in a terrorist attack on a kosher grocery store in Paris in early January, her ministry began “working on a special program to encourage aliya and create the best conditions for the absorption of immigrants from France and Belgium,” Landver wrote on Facebook last week.
However, the war in eastern Ukraine calls for a “rapid and effective response” and the inclusion of that country’s Jews in the plan as well, she opined.
Landver cannot make aliya into a “political issue,” Avinoam Bar-Yosef, president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, told Army Radio.
While immigration of Ukrainian Jews must also be facilitated, he argued, it is completely different from French aliya and the two must be considered separately.
The JPPI recently submitted a report to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu detailing the unique needs of French immigrants, many of whom, unlike previous waves of immigrants, are highly educated professionals coming from a Western society.
“The old paradigm was reaching out to in populations in distress…and you send them to [periphery development towns like] Dimona and then they have nowhere to go. Today, people have a choice. People who are not satisfied in Dimona will move back to France or Canada or America,” Dr. Dov Maimon, who wrote the report, recently told The Jerusalem Post.
Given that French emigres can work all over Europe and that places like the Canadian province of Quebec recognize their degrees and professional qualifications and actively recruit French graduates, Israel’s efforts, unless revamped, may prove insufficient to woo young, educated Jews, he added.
Avi Zana, of the French-Israeli immigration promotion organization Ami, likewise told Army Radio that he believes Landver to be playing politics with immigration.
“We are currently working on a program to encourage optimal immigration and absorption [and] we also wish to include the Ukraine together with France, because these are two areas where there is a strong need for Jews to make aliya,” ministry spokesman Elad Sonn told the Post.
However, he added, in Ukraine there is currently a “bloody war” which mandates including that country in the program.
Landver’s proposal came under fire from an unexpected source on Monday, when Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich said that he does not see any reason for Ukrainian Jewry to be included in a program aimed at Francophones.
“They aren’t Soviet Jews, they have unique needs,” he said of French Jewry, adding that he hopes that Israel will “set up unique programs and structures” for their absorption.
There has been a lack of preparation for French aliya, Bleich told the Post, while Ukrainian immigration has been going on for decades with an infrastructure already in place to absorb the rising number of Jews fleeing the war.
Last December, the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority issued an internal directive relaxing rules requiring certain documents from prospective immigrants from Donetsk, Luhansk, and other cities occupied by Russian- backed separatists.
France needs “an entirely new approach that is uniquely French and Western European,” Bleich asserted.
“I don’t see how you can mix apples and oranges. The Ukrainians are coming on a program that has been going on for 25 years.”
Asked about the dispute, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency said that, while “certain proposals pertaining to aliya were raised at a recent cabinet meeting…until those proposals are adopted by the government, we are proceeding with our joint program to accommodate increased aliya from France as planned.”