Jewish Agency to rethink cuts in help to olim

MKs also criticize a new policy in which immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are finger-printed upon arrival.

fingerprints 88 (photo credit: )
fingerprints 88
(photo credit: )
Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski pledged Tuesday to review budget cuts to immigrant associations at the upcoming Board of Governors meeting. Bielski was speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Committee on Immigrant Absorption, during which MKs and immigrant activists assailed the agency for slashing funding to olim organizations. "There isn't absorption without organizations like these," said Committee Chairman Michael Nudelman of groups dedicated to helping new immigrants from their respective countries navigate Israeli bureaucracy, find work, and otherwise integrate into Israeli society. Nudelman declared that successful absorption is essential for bringing additional immigrants. And MK Sofa Landver (Israel Beiteinu) described the activities of the olim associations as "a life's work for thousands of people," adding, "no one has the right to destroy them by stopping their budgets." Bielski, in announcing that he would lead a reexamination of the cuts, stressed that, "I very much appreciate the olim associations." A shift in priorities and belt-tightening at the agency has seen the total budget for olim associations shrink from $2.1m to $1.6m this year, according to the Council of Immigrant Associations in Israel. Several are facing severe financial problems, including the Organization of Immigrants from Latin America, Spain and Portugal in Israel (OLEI), which has said it will be forced to close its offices by the end of the month if funding isn't restored. OLEI President Leon Amiras attended the committee meeting to urge Bielski and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to restore monies to his and other associations. He welcomed Bielski's decision. "I feel satisfied because I believe that when Zeev Bielski speaks and promises something, he will do what he says," Amiras explained, adding that he will only rest easy "when I see the check for our budget." MKs at the meeting also criticized a new Interior Ministry policy in which immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are finger-printed upon arrival. Nudelman called the practice "unacceptable" and "discriminatory," asking, "Is this a jail we're bring them to?" He said the measure would discourage immigration. Bielski was unfamiliar with the new procedure but said he would look into and appeal to Interior Minister Roni Bar-On to change it. The Interior Ministry has justified the fingerprinting as a way to protect rather than hurt immigrants. Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said that the policy was instituted following cases of identity theft in which Jewish families opened aliya files and while they were delayed, other non-Jews posed as them and were able to make aliya in their place. She said that fingerprinting began among those from Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union because most of the cases had originated there. But she said that soon it would be expanded to all immigrants.