Landver says she wants ‘all Jews here’

"Nobody can choose" aliya for the Jews of Europe except themselves, minister tells ‘Post.’

June 9, 2013 22:50
Sofa Landver

sofa landver 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

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 aliya.

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 Jews.”

“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 himself.

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 B’Nefesh.

“There cannot be a situation where every American immigrant must pass through a private organization,” Aparzev told the newspaper.

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 ministry.

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 B’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 minutes.”

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 said.

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 have.

Yet some critics contend that those with Jewish blood who remain in Gondar have not been allowed to immigrate, splitting families.

“I was also in Gondar,” Landver said in response.

“Nobody can tell me stories.”

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 camp.

Those who are left and have not received permission, she said, are “not Jews.”

“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 to here.”

Anyone left, she said, must prove their Jewish identity like any prospective immigrant from “any other country.”

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