Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver is seeking hundreds of millions of shekels in additional funding for each of the next several years to promote aliya and absorb Jews from France, Belgium and Ukraine, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In a proposal obtained by the Post, which was shared with various government ministries on Monday, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry called for NIS 598,576,000 per year for 2015 and 2016.
France, followed by Ukraine, led the pack in terms of numbers of immigrants to Israel in 2014. France became the leading source of olim for the first time, with almost 7,000 coming, double the number who arrived in 2013. Ukraine followed closely behind, with 5,840 immigrants. Many had fled the Russian-backed civil war and economic collapse that followed last winter’s Euromaidan Revolution, which toppled the administration of president Viktor Yanukovich and replaced it with a pro-Western government.
Aliya from Ukraine increased by 190 percent over the previous year, “due primarily to the ongoing instability in the eastern part of the country,” the Jewish Agency said.
While the details of Landver’s proposal have yet to be announced, she made waves last week when she posted on Facebook that she planned to include Ukraine
in what was meant to be an emergency plan aimed at the absorption of French and Belgian Jews.
The minister’s proposal came under fire from an unexpected source on Monday, when Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich said he saw no 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 Francophone Jews, adding he hoped that Israel would “set up unique programs and structures” for their absorption.
The ministry program will operate for two years as an emergency measure and include efforts to increase the number of aliya emissaries in the three countries, the building of French- and Russian-language websites providing information on immigration procedures, and increased budgets for youth groups and organizations promoting aliya.
Landver proposed working with the Education Ministry to create programs to teach Ukrainian, Belgian and French Jews Hebrew before their emigration. This could ease the transition process as well as increase the frequency of aliya fairs and seminars.
The plan also calls for coordination with the Economy Ministry to “develop and provide training to immigration candidates who want to move their businesses from France to Israel.”
The budget for grants to people who want to move their businesses to Israel would be expanded to accommodate the highly educated and generally well-off French community, with those who qualify being eligible for up to NIS 50,000.
The ministry would “grant loans, benefits and support to entrepreneurs who are building or transferring businesses,” the proposal states.
The ministry also called for a temporary increase in the number of Francophones within the absorption bureaucracy. Dedicated national service tracks and vocational programs for new immigrants were also proposed.
Under the plan, the number of hours of Hebrew instruction would be doubled while vouchers for further lessons would be provided to those who feel their language proficiency is insufficient after that point.
Olim would be able to choose a specific “immigration route” tailored to their demographic profile, including young people, businesspeople and the elderly.
The proposal would “task the Social Services Ministry with... adding French-speaking personnel [for] welfare services in cities where there is a concentration of immigrants from France and Belgium.”
Dr. Dov Maimon, a French expert at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) who recently submitted to the prime minister his own proposal for the absorption of French Jewry, said the ministry’s plan would lower barriers to military service and ease the arrival of French students, although there could be problems.
“I welcome the plan,” Maimon told the Post
. “Yet the key innovation with aliya from France is the breakthrough idea of corporate relocation, and this has to be done with the Economy Ministry. This will ease the relocation to Israel of hundreds of thousands of skilled people who are so needed for Israel to thrive.”
He cited a dearth of tax incentives for companies that relocate, and a lack of business incubators and temporary permits for physicians and other professionals to work.
“This has to be fine with the Prime Minister’s Office, yet this is cruelly missing, too,” Maimon said.
Asked about the inclusion of Ukrainian Jewry in the plan, JPPI president Avinoam Bar Yosef told the Post
that it should be handled separately, while French-speaking olim are handled by the Prime Minister’s Office and not by a “sectoral party,” an apparent reference to the Russian immigrant MKs in Landver’s Israel Beytenu. JPPI would be ready to come up with a plan for Ukrainian aliya as well, Bar Yosef said.
Asked about the proposal, a spokesman for the Immigration and Absorption Ministry told the Post
: “We are working on the program and when there is something to announce we will happily announce it.”
Baron Julien Klener, head of the Belgian Consistory, the umbrella organization for the country’s Jewish community, said there was no way anyone could know how many European Jews would leave for Israel.
“How can one budget the possible emigration?” he asked the Post
. “On what criteria are these sums based? Otherwise put, what are the ministries going to spend the money on? It seems very, very vague.”
According to the plan, the budget would be split between the ministries of Immigration and Absorption, Health, Finance, Education and Social Services, as well as the National Service Authority.