Jerusalem's culturally diverse population provided rich fodder for eight British Labor Party parliamentarians who spent Tuesday morning at the capital's welfare-to-work center, A4E-Amin.
While the delegation, which also included several ministerial advisers, essentially came to see how a British export has been adapted to fit Israeli conditions, the group also learned how case workers deal with the varied population and about the Israeli government's role in supporting the center and easing the chronically unemployed into the workplace.
"We took a concept from abroad and adapted it to fit here," said Bari Bar-Zion, CEO of Amin, which runs Jerusalem's welfare-to-work program, often called the Wisconsin Plan. He also heads the Israeli operations of A4E, a multi-national British company backing the program here and responsible for several similar employment centers worldwide, including in India and South Africa.
"What is happening in Jerusalem is influential in reforms taking place in the UK," said Rob Murdoch, executive director of A4E International, who accompanied the MPs on their visit to the center. "Jerusalem has a very diverse population and there is a lot we can learn from here."
Luciana Berger, director of Labor Friends of Israel, which organized the fact-finding trip, told The Jerusalem Post how the group heard from staff members at the center that it provided services in 14 languages to a population including ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, Israeli Arabs and Russian-speaking immigrants.
"We heard from case workers and participants about how the program has succeeded in changing many lives," Berger said.
"It was fascinating to see how welfare-to-work programs are being carried out in such a diverse society as Israel," added Andrew Gwynne MP, parliamentary chairman of Labor Friends of Israel. "And it's all built on a number of the initiatives first implemented by the Labor government in the UK."
In addition to Gwynne, the group included MPs David Cairns, Jane Kennedy, Anne McGuire, Meg Munn, Jamie Reed, Derek Twigg and Malcolm Wicks.
After visiting the center, the group spent the day in Ramallah meeting with officials from the Palestinian Authority and those working with Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair. In the coming days, they will meet with British Ambassador Tom Phillips and visit Sderot and the Lebanese border.