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Every year, hundreds of scientist olim have to fight for their salaries to be renewed, and cuts to the Immigration and Absorption Ministry's budget could place their very jobs in jeopardy, according to testimony delivered on Tuesday to the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee.
"The base 2007 budget for the Kamea program [the ministry's 'Absorption of Immigrant Scientists' program] is missing NIS 25.26 million," said committee chairman MK Michael Nudelman.
The budget for the program amounts to some NIS 92 million per year, which finances the ongoing absorption needs of some 500 scientists who came to Israel in the framework of the Kamea program since its establishment in 1998.
Following government-wide budget cuts in 2002 intended to help finance the fighting against Palestinian terror organizations in the height of that year's terror campaign, the budget to the program was cut by 28.4 percent.
Since then, "there are always problems with renewing the scientists' [work] agreements," according to Omri Ingber, head of the ministry's Center for Absorption in Science.
While the original program was conceived as a kind of "permanent temporary" arrangement in which their contracts would automatically be renewed, the cuts have meant that the renewal is delayed following each three-year employment cycle while MKs and universities work to make up the missing funds.
For Ingber, the main problem is one of "image. The fact that the renewal is delayed each time creates the feeling [among the scientists] that they are temporary."
However, according to Prof. Moshe Belinsky of Tel Aviv University, who is chairman of the Organization of Immigrant Scientists in Israeli Universities, "the budget cut and the 28.4% deficit will seriously damage the program that brought the successful absorption of professional immigrant scientists, and could cause hundreds to be fired."
But, said Ingber, "some scientists have been in the program eight years. No one has yet been fired and nobody has lost their salary."
The MKs were primarily concerned with the standing of the scientists.
"We're treating Kamea scientists like step-children," said MK Marina Solodkin.
MK Avraham Michaeli seemed to summarize the feelings of many when he said, "It appears that the state has not understood the importance of absorbing the immigrant scientists."