Despite rising levels of anti- Semitism and the rise of the far right in
countries such as Greece, Hungary and the Ukraine, Immigrant Absorption Minister
Sofa Landver says that Israel is not about to begin pushing for a mass
Asked if she sees a large influx of European Jews in the future,
the Yisrael Beytenu MK told The Jerusalem Post last week that “nobody can
choose” for the Jews of Europe except themselves.
They must decide, she
asserted, “if they prefer to live in a country where there is anti-Semitism and
hate for foreigners or if they prefer coming home and living in a country of
“There are threats, but there is also the reality that people are
living in,” she said.
Interviewed at her office in the Knesset, the
second term minister – who is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union –
ruminated on Jewish history.
“Nobody can choose for [the Jews],” she
said. “But they know and we know, that until Jews passed through pogroms and the
Holocaust they didn’t think or dream about the State of Israel. I say we are
here and we want everybody here, but every one has to decide” for
Landver also downplayed comments made by outgoing ministry
director-general Dmitry Aparzev, who made waves in April when he gave an
interview in Ma’ariv calling for the Jewish Agency to “return the keys” of
aliya, and attacked the private aliya organization Nefesh
“There cannot be a situation where every American immigrant
must pass through a private organization,” Aparzev told the
Landver told the Post
that Aparzev had tendered his
resignation so he could run for leadership of the local council in the northern
town of Katzrin. She said that his leaving was not connected to his public
comments made so soon after his reinstatement as a senior civil servant in the
After Aparzev’s comments were published, Landver moved quickly
to distance herself from such rhetoric.
Her office issued a statement
commending the Jewish Agency on its “important and historic role in shaping
[the] aliya and absorption process” and that “there are still great challenges
that JAFI and the ministry are facing.”
The statement continued that
Landver looks forward to working with Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and
she reiterated these comments to the Post
, especially about working towards the
goal of convincing expatriate Israelis to return home.
“We intend to
continue activities with returning Israelis, as we did in the previous
administration,” she said.
“We are working on plans to encourage Israelis
abroad to come back with the Jewish Agency and organizations like Nefesh
Discussing her decision to seek a second term as immigrant
absorption minister, Landver said that it was a decision based on her perception
of the importance of immigration to the country.
Asked about a statement
last year by a Jewish Agency figure who stated that “the age of mass aliya is
over,” Landver admitted that there are no longer large “waves” of immigrants as
there had been following the fall of the Soviet Union. However, she said,
“20,000 every year come to the state of Israel in aliya from all over the
world,” half of those from the former Soviet Union.
“It’s less than it
was,” she said, but that people are still coming and cited immigration from
Italy, Morocco and the United Kingdom.
Landver said that she has been –
and will continue to – work to minimize bureaucracy.
When someone comes
to Israel they no longer have to stop off at numerous corporate and governmental
offices in order to get their affairs in order, she said. Previously, people
would have to “go to the municipality, to the Interior Ministry and from there
to the bank and the hospital” and so on she said.
However, today an
immigrant “receives everything at the airport. Within a half hour of arriving in
Israel, he receives an immigrant certificate, a national identification card, he
can choose a bank and a health fund and he receives a SIM card for 200
She is proud that she has extended the time period during which
the ministry is allowed to engage with new immigrants – from 10 years to 15 –
and that she is working on promoting building in the center of the country, a
location seen more desirable by new immigrants rather than the periphery, she
In Gondar, Ethiopia, the Jewish Agency is slated to shut down its
immigration transit camp later this year.
The agency and the government
believe most of the Jews of Ethiopia who wanted to come to Israel
Yet some critics contend that those with Jewish blood who remain in
Gondar have not been allowed to immigrate, splitting families.
also in Gondar,” Landver said in response.
“Nobody can tell me
When she returned, she “recommended to the prime minister to
close the camp,” calling it “unacceptable that there are people who remain there
and don’t receive answers.”
All of those who can be confirmed as Jewish
will be brought to Israel, she said, “blessing” the closure of the
Those who are left and have not received permission, she said, are
“This is the state for the Jews,” she explained. “That is the
specific quality of the State of Israel and because of that one who immigrates
to the state of Israel [must be a] Jew according to the law of return. Anybody
who had a connection with the Jewish connection, with the Jewish people and
wanted to make aliya has already been approved and is already here or on the way
Anyone left, she said, must prove their Jewish identity like
any prospective immigrant from “any other country.”