(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Michael Nudelman of Kadima on Monday became the first Russian-speaker to head the Knesset's Committee on Immigrant Absorption.
While Nudelman acknowledged this milestone, he promised to represent all immigrants.
"I'm not going to be a chairman only of the Russian olim," Nudelman told The Jerusalem Post. "There are problems [to solve] also for immigrants from France, from Argentina, from Ethiopia."
He described his priorities as securing more jobs and low-cost housing for immigrants, helping at-risk immigrant youth, and helping boost pensions for those who have worked in this country too briefly to have enough money to retire on.
Nudelman, 68, immigrated from Ukraine in 1991 and served on the Kiryat Shmona city council before joining the Knesset. He started out as a member of Yisrael B'Aliya and then joined Israel Beiteinu, both parties dedicated to advancing the interests of Russian immigrants. In the most recent election he joined Kadima.
A former economics professor, Nudelman has worked on the Finance, Economics, Interior and Environment committees, served as the chairman of Science and Technology and spent his entire time in the Knesset - 10 years - on the Immigrant Absorption Committee.
"One of the most important infrastructures for the existence and endurance of Israel is aliya," he explained of his long tenure on the committee.
Nudelman got the nod after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was unable to persuade Marina Solodkin, No. 6 on the Kadima list, to take the post after she was passed over for immigrant absorption minister in favor of Zeev Boim. She had served as deputy absorption minister in the last government and expected to at least reprise her role, but Olmert later decided there would be no deputy ministers in his coalition.
Appointing Nudelman, according to former Yisrael B'Aliya executive director Eli Kazhdan, "is a fairly desperate, almost pathetic, last-ditch effort to minimize the tremendous damage that was done by not appointing Marina or someone else Russian to a ministry."
He said that, as such, it would do nothing to shore up Russian support.
"Nudelman is not particularly popular among the Russians and nobody cares about the absorption committee," he said. "Nobody has anything against him, but people won't feel vindicated by having Nudelman as the head of [this] committee."
An official who works on Diaspora issues said that while Nudelman would likely be an effective advocate for Russian immigrants, he lacked some of the clout previous Immigrant Absorption Committee chairs have had in the Diaspora.
"In the past, the chairman of the committee was the minister for world Jewry. That's what a powerful head of the committee did," he said, referring to Meimad MK Michael Melchior and Labor MK Colette Avital, who last had the position. "I don't see how Nudelman will mirror that."