(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Ethiopian rights activists called on Knesset Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni Monday to hold an emergency hearing aimed at saving the highly-touted "five-year-plan" for improving the integration and absorption of Ethiopian immigrants.
According to the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), the plan, approved by the previous government, could be in jeopardy if the Treasury's Economic Arrangements Bill is approved in the coming weeks by the current government.
Under the new proposal, funding for the plan could be shared by the five individual ministries - Immigration and Absorption, Education, Welfare and Social Services, Industry, Labor and Trade and Construction and Housing - involved in supporting the initiative.
"If that happens we are worried that the plan will come at the expense of programs already running to assist new Ethiopian immigrants," IAEJ spokesman Avi Masfin told The Jerusalem Post. "Taking funds from other programs is not exactly the point of this plan and will certainly not improve the current situation for new immigrants."
In his letter to Gafni, Masfin highlighted the community's high expectations for the plan, which deals with mortgage subsidies, educational, social and community needs, and pointed out to the MK some of the hardships faced by the 110,000-strong community in Israel.
"As we all know, the economic crisis has not spared the State of Israel and the Ethiopian immigrant community is in even greater need today than in the past of increased social and economic assistance," wrote Masfin. "They are the first ones to be hurt by the recession."
A spokesman for Gafni said that the MK viewed the issue as very important and that he hoped to discuss the plan's future, either separately or within the context of hearings about the Economic Arrangements Bill, next week.
First initiated in November 2006, the plan was created following a series of demonstrations by members of the Ethiopian community frustrated over difficult economic and social conditions that have led the immigrant population to become one of the most poverty-stricken in the country.
For the duration of 2007, government officials and community members met under the auspices of a special inter-ministerial committee to discuss ways to combine forces and ease the burdens faced by new and veteran immigrants.
Although the plan was eventually approved by the government at the start of 2008, the Finance Ministry refused to grant a budget for the full five years, promising instead NIS 82.5 million for the first year and requesting that each ministry involved negotiate additional funds in the follow-up years.