A Passover Seder for new immigrants takes place in Mevaseret Zion in 2011..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin should join the fight against selling the Absorption Center in Mevaseret Zion, MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) told the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.
Razbozov challenged Elkin: “On May 31, 2015, the tender that the management company for the pension fund of the Jewish Agency published for selling the land of the absorption center to the highest bidder closed. How was land transferred from the state – the Jewish Agency – to a private body – the management company – in the first place, if the Israel Land Authority does not have a document relating to a request to transfer the land?” he asked.
The Yesh Atid MK also asked Elkin to join him in investigating how the land was transferred under the nose of the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, which controls half of it.
Elkin answered in the negative, adding that the previous ministers were responsible.
Razbozov, who used to be chairman of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, said after the plenum discussion that he had held a meeting on the absorption center in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion a year ago and had many questions about the land transfer, which led him to complain to the police and State Comptroller’s Office.
“The buildings on the land were donated to the state in order to be an absorption center and not so someone could get rich off of real estate,” he said. “Therefore, since I realized the tender to send the land had opened again, I wrote letters to the new immigration and absorption minister and finance minister and I am acting so that they stop the tender until it is clear that the process was done properly.”
Razbozov called for Elkin to make sure immigrants are absorbed under optimal conditions and not to let a private company get rich at their expense.
Mevaseret Zion councilman Jeremy Saltan, a member of the municipality’s Immigration and Absorption Committee, pointed out that the absorption center in question is the largest in the country, home to some 1,300 immigrants, most of whom are from Ethiopia.
“Generations of immigrants have gone through the flagship of all absorption centers.
The joint policy of the previous minister, Sofa Landver, and the Jewish Agency was to close our center down without building a new one, leaving the immigrants without clear solutions,” Saltan explained.
“Last year, in the Knesset committee, I called the lack of transparency surrounding the land transfer and the vital documents that suddenly were lost ‘Holyland 2’. It is clear there are those who are seeking to make money at the expense of the immigrants,” he added.
Saltan expressed hope that Elkin would change the ministry’s policy and “send the important message to the next wave of aliya from France and Ukraine that aliya is not just for rich people, by working towards saving our absorption center.”
Since the 1970s, the land in question was rented from the Jewish National Fund-KKL to the Jewish Agency, with the purpose of running the absorption center. Over the past 20 years, the Israel Land Authority has sold 51 acres of the public land to the Jewish Agency, which in turn handed it over to the agency workers’ pension fund. The paper trail for these transactions is nowhere to be found.
Razbozov has been working for over a year to stop the sale of the absorption center. In 2014, when the Immigration and Absorption Ministry lease on the land was expiring, he called on the state comptroller to check how the land could be sold without any records being available.
The land, which was bought by the Jewish Agency for NIS 33 million a decade ago, was auctioned off in a tender at a starting price of NIS 250 million.
At the time the tender was announced in May of 2014, former MK Nissim Ze’ev questioned how it was possible that he had already seen advertisements to buy apartments at the site of the absorption center, accusing the tender of being fixed.
Hana Elazar Legesse, spokeswoman for the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, called the sale of the land “a disgrace.”
She said that closing all the absorption centers could be a positive step, but only if the residents are properly prepared and taken care of.
“If the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency suitably meet [the residents’] needs, we will be very happy,” she said, but went on to add “The Jewish Agency is greedy.
They look only at their profits at the expense of the new immigrants. They are selling the land without taking into account the condition of the immigrants.”