(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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Interior Ministry red tape "hurts the cause of aliya," the new Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, blaming ministry practices for reducing immigration.
"We've got people held up in the Former Soviet Union to come on aliya because of bureaucracy."
He also said that those immigrants who come, only to face difficulties from the Interior Ministry and other government offices, "phone their friends, and they say, 'Listen, if I have to wait so long, to wait months, for licensing, for a certificate, for a signature, don't come here.'"
Bielski stressed, "That's why I made myself personally at the disposal of these people in order to see that we're going on the right track."
He called himself "the sole agent of every oleh who comes to Israel for every government office" and invited all immigrants experiencing problems to call him directly at (02) 620 2080, his office number.
"If they treat the oleh like this, that he must wait and wait and wait just because they don't have the time to deal with him, then they are going to deal with me," he warned. "We are the ombudsmen for all the olim in Israel and we are going to ensure that all the government offices, after one, twice, three times, they will learn how to treat immigrants."
Bielski also welcomed 2005 figures showing that immigration of Former Soviet Union Jews moving to Israel had leveled off with those moving to Germany, the first time since 2001. In the first eight months of this year, 5,250 FSU Jews moved to Israel in comparison to 5,300 who went to Germany. After 33,600 FSU Jews came to Israel in 2001, the amount plummeted to 18,525 in 2002, the year in which immigration to Germany rose from 16,711 to 19,262, according to Agency figures.
"Eventually they realized that Israel is the center of the Jewish world," he told the Post. "Once they move and the leave the Former Soviet Union, it's better that they make it one stop. Otherwise they make two, three [stops], and eventually they come to Israel."
Bielski said at a meeting with journalists earlier Tuesday that he was also going to try to serve as a mediator between the Jewish National Fund and its British counterpart, JNF-UK. The Israel-based JNF is severing ties with the British group, claiming that its name is being used in a deceptive and immoral manner to channel money away from the JNF and toward other projects in Israel. A JNF-UK spokesman told the Post in October that the organization had decided to direct its funds elsewhere because it had been put off by a series of charges of misconduct within the JNF.
"It's really upsetting that a Jewish organization... is fighting now with JNF Israel," Bielski said. "I'll try to do the best that I can to try to make peace between the two sides."
The JA head also noted how distressed he was by the fact that so many Jews from the US and Canada had never been here.
"I can't accept, as an Israeli, a sabra who was born in Jerusalem, who never met my [grandparents] because they perished in Auschwitz... that close to 80 percent of our brothers and sisters in North America have never been to Israel and probably never will."