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Several local authorities and government ministries dealing with the absorption process of new immigrants will come under scrutiny Tuesday when the Knesset's Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, chaired by MK Michael Nudelman, will investigate accusations by immigrant organizations of racism against new immigrants.
"The straw that broke the camel's back was the recent incident in Petah Tikva last month," Avi Masfin, spokesman for the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), told The Jerusalem Post in an interview Monday.
Masfin was referring to plans by Petah Tikva's municipal council to block more immigrants from Ethiopia from settling there amid claims that its budget was already stretched and the city could not handle anymore Ethiopian immigrants, many of whom are in need of extra educational and social welfare services.
"Israel is a country that is meant to absorb its new immigrants," said Masfin. "No one should be telling the immigrants where they are allowed or not allowed to live."
Masfin highlighted that the problem lay in the hands of the government and the limited mortgage payments granted to Ethiopian immigrants, which means they can only afford to purchase property in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.
However, a spokeswoman for the Knesset committee said that today's meeting would focus on discrimination faced by other immigrant groups as well.
Michael Ginker, director of immigration and aliya for the Union of Local Authorities, reacted angrily to the charge that there had been cases of racism against new immigrants within the city council service and said the Knesset committee's choice of headline for the meeting - "Racism against new immigrants in several local authorities" - was only designed to garner media attention.
"I don't believe there is racism in the local authorities," said Ginker. "The local authorities are facing hardships from all directions and the problems of absorbing the country's immigrant population falls directly into their hands. True, there is racism in Israeli society, but the local authorities are the bodies trying to help solve the problems."
Ginker said he was uncertain exactly what issues the IAEJ and other immigrant associations would pinpoint in Tuesday's meeting, but said he was aware of the difficulties faced by certain cities where large groups of Ethiopian immigrants had already gathered to live.
"The immigrants should not all be concentrated in one area that puts serious pressure on that local authority," he said.
"There is no room for racism in the State of Israel between Jews or between anyone else," Meital Noy, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, told the Post. "Israel is built on immigration, it is its oxygen."
She added that she was aware of the difficulties faced by new immigrants, especially from Ethiopia, and said the ministry was constantly engaged in negotiations with the Finance Ministry to increase the mortgage grants.
Representatives of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry will be present at Tuesday's meeting, along with delegates from the Interior, Construction and Housing, Education and Social Affairs Ministries. City council members from Petah Tikva, Or Yehuda, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi, Mevaseret Zion and Jerusalem have also been invited.
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