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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Thirteen MKs called on the government to rescue the Na'aleh aliya program in an emergency session of the Knesset's Immigration and Absorption Committee on Tuesday.
The program is under threat of cutbacks as the Jewish Agency, the major funder of the project, is forced to cut some 10 percent of its budget due to the effects of the global financial crisis. Na'aleh is a special aliya program that helps young people make aliya before their parents.
Some 11,000 of the program's participants, or about 90%, have made aliya since Na'aleh's founding in 1991. Some 70% of these have seen their parents move to Israel after them.
"We've never had a crisis like this," Yeshayahu Yechieli, director of Na'aleh, told the Knesset committee.
Yechieli complained that the agency was looking to cut the program before the Israeli government even had a chance to examine ways to increase its own funding to compensate.
"That makes this a situation that could see the end of the program," he warned.
The 13 MKs in attendance - an almost unheard-of number for a committee meeting - unanimously agreed that the government should step in to fill the void.
"The government must save Na'aleh," said committee chairman MK Michael Nudelman.
"Na'aleh is not closing," said Jewish Agency Absorption and Immigration Department director-general Eli Cohen. "In the coming months we will launch the application drives for 2009."
However, because of the agency's serious budgetary difficulties, parents of applicants are still being made to sign a form stating they are aware that the program might not take place, he noted.
"We are working to find new sources of funding," Cohen told the MKs. The agency needs to find some NIS 6m., he said.
At the meeting, Elkin noted that the funding of Na'aleh is divided between the government and the agency, with the government covering the cost for Western youths to participate, and the agency financing those from the former Soviet Union - the original targets of the program.
On Monday, a Jewish Agency spokesman told The Jerusalem Post the that program's financial future would be discussed at the Board of Governors meeting of the Jewish Agency slated to take place in Jerusalem in February. Until then, he said, the agency would work to find alternate sources of funding.
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