A new immigrant at Ben-Gurion airport kisses the tarmac as he makes aliya.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Representatives of the Aliya and Integration, Education and other ministries received poor grades from Knesset members and organizations that help immigrants Wednesday at a special session of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs Committee catered toward handling English-speaking immigrants.
The MKs and representatives of immigrant organizations took turns scolding the officials from the ministries, who were asked to return to the committee with better answers about how they will help immigrants from English-speaking countries with their special needs.
“We are not looking for excuses,” committee chairman Avraham Neguise (Likud) told the ministry officials at the meeting. “We are looking for solutions. There are outdated views in ministries that immigrants from English-speaking countries are rich and don’t need help. The truth is there are some who are really suffering. We want to hear how they are getting over those outdated views and helping people.”
Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova complained that the Aliya and Integration Ministry spent a lot of money on ads featuring Israeli mentalist and supernatural entertainer Lior Suchard instead of on employing English speakers at the ministry. Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria added that there was no guide assisting immigrants with basic needs.
Ahead of the session, representatives of the ministries reported to the Knesset Research Center that they believed immigrants from English-speaking countries have no unique needs and do not require any special assistance. The ministries said Anglo immigrants receive the same assistance as others who move to Israel from around the world via organizations and local authorities.
After the MKs and immigrant organization representatives said they expected different answers, Aliya and Integration Ministry representative Doris Kreiaf told the committee Wednesday that the ministry employed some 90 project managers around the country, 40 of whom speak English, even if it is not their mother tongue.
“Russian speakers speak English too,” Kreiaf said. “Our projects help all immigrants. Our social workers all have degrees, which means they must speak English. They help the general population, not just English speakers.”
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Kreiaf said much of what the ministry does to help English-speaking immigrants is done by funding local authorities, like Jerusalem, which she said does a particularly good job reaching out to English speakers. She added that her ministry gives Nefesh B’Nefesh NIS 18 million per year to help English speakers before and after aliya.
Maya Sharir, who directs the Education Ministry’s Division for Absorption of Immigrant Students, told the committee that 978 children from English-speaking countries were absorbed in the past year.
“They all need to improve their Hebrew,” Sharir said. “We want to absorb more teachers for [the] special needs of particular students. We work with organizations who do that.”
Nefesh B’Nefesh government relations director Lizi Martin testified that the ministries have actually been responsive to Anglo immigrants’ needs.
“We feel there is whom to talk to,” Martin said. “Immigrants are surprised. We represent the ministries to the immigrants and the immigrants to the ministries, and it is working.”
Josie Arbel, the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel’s director of absorption services programming, said: “You never stop being an immigrant. There will always be challenges dealing with new things. The need for language and cultural accessibility must be acknowledged.”
World Zionist Organization vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel said the WZO organized a forum of immigrant organizations because it understands the needs of the immigrants better than anyone.
Jonathan Javor of Tel Aviv Internationals, which advocates for the needs of some 20,000 young English speakers in that city, said English speakers have serious needs that are more often than not overlooked by the Aliya and Integration Ministry.
“English-speaking immigrants don’t have it too bad in Israel but that is because of the tireless work that Tel Aviv Internationals and other Olim organizations do and not because of the government,” Javor said. “That being said, I know that Neguise, Aliya and Integration Minister Sofa Landver and ministry director-general Alex Kushnir are working closely and tirelessly with TLV Internationals and other immigrant organizations in order to make real changes, both in policy and in deed.”
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