Financial support for organizations assisting new immigrants has dropped from NIS 8 million to NIS 2m. over the past decade, according to information revealed at the Knesset Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Committee meeting on Wednesday.
Moreover, due to the difficult bureaucratic process involved in accessing the funds set aside for these organizations, many of the organizations simply give up.
Only 47 percent of the budget is accessed, according to the information revealed at the meeting.
“Instead of encouraging and strengthening the organizations that work to benefit the new immigrants, the government is decreasing its support. At this rate, in a few years the support will vanish,” said committee chairman Abraham Naguise (Likud).
Sam Kadosh, head of the Center for French Students, spoke of the paltry sums available to organizations like his and said, “We are not charity organizations that need a shekel from the government ministries. We host initiatives for new immigrants, each of them at a cost of NIS 200,000.”
Avi Zana, general-director of AMI Israel, an organization that assists olim from France, said that with the increasing waves of French immigration, “we can’t do anything with NIS 30,000 a year for each organization.”
According to Immigration and Absorption Ministry representatives, the bureaucratic guidelines need to be changed, a process that needs approval from the Justice Ministry and will be finished only in 2017. After that, there is likely to be an increase in funding.
In addition, the Absorption Ministry representatives spoke about programs for new immigrants that are funded by the ministry but are not run by immigrant-assistance.
The same committee, in a joint meeting with the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee, discussed on Tuesday the issue of Hebrew-language ulpan for immigrant students.
Ulpan teaches immigrants Hebrew language and also exposes them to the Israeli culture, heritage and way of life.
Nonetheless, the Education Ministry has decided to close the Ulpan for Children and Youth, located at Evelina de Rothschild School in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, and instead have them integrate into schools upon arrival.
According to Yael Shalom, manager of the ulpan at ‘Evelina’, the Jerusalem Municipality took over funding the ulpan due to its importance, but is now under pressure by the Education Ministry to stop all funding and close it down.
“The ulpan has existed for 43 years, with a drop-out rate close to zero. Our students succeed in school, succeed in the army, and maintain relationships even 20 years later. The students and teachers who come to us enjoy, not only learning Hebrew, but also from our support and counsel. Today, a student receives 25 funded hours by the municipality and an additional eight hours by the Absorption Ministry. A child cannot study in a regular school and be taken out [of class] once in a while for an hour to learn Hebrew. It doesn’t work,” said Shalom.
Naguise called on the ministry to allow the ‘Evelina’ ulpan to continue to operate, and also to continue funding it. Naguise, along with other MKs, students and educators, said that closing the ulpan would be a mistake and studying Hebrew in schools is less effective than intensive ulpan.
Revital Dotan, representing the Education Ministry at the meeting, said, “We believe in direct absorption of immigrant students into schools.
The students enjoy regular studies and learn Hebrew as a second language. They learn Hebrew during recess and during school activities, and direct absorption prevents multiple acclimatization crises.”
Many at the meeting called the decision of the ministry “detached from emotion, based on theories and not experience, and detached from reality.”
In a separate meeting on Tuesday, the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee and the Education, Culture and Sport Committee called on the government to reverse its February decision to privatize all of the ulpans in the country.
The committee members also agreed that the current 500 hours of ulpan study provided to new immigrants is insufficient and called on the government to increase the number of hours.