Netanyahu presented with emergency plan to absorb 120,000 French Jews

JPPI think tank proposes absorption policies designed to compete with Western countries.

Members of the Jewish community in north London  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Members of the Jewish community in north London
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Indicating displeasure with Israel’s immigration promotion and absorption strategy, the Jewish People Policy Institute last week presented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with its emergency plan for the absorption of 120,000 French immigrants.
According to the high profile Jerusalem think tank, which maintains close ties with the Jewish Agency and senior politicians, Israel has thus far not implemented the necessary policies to compete with the United States, Canada, and various European states in attracting highly educated and business savvy French Jews.
According to JPPI senior fellow Dr. Dov Maimon – himself a French immigrant – despite the increase in French aliya over the past several years, the number of people making the move is relatively small compared to the large numbers of people who have made inquiries with the Jewish Agency.
Agency chairman Natan Sharansky recently told The Jerusalem Post that some 50,000 French Jews had requested information on aliya during 2014.
“When you have 100,000 people who come to your shop to look at a car and only 7,000 buy it at the end of the day, the conversion rate is seven percent. The conversion rate [regarding aliya] is very low,” Maimon told the Post.
“We have made a market study. We have reached out to those people who want to come and didn’t come and asked them ‘why don’t you come?’ and they tell us three things: employment, affordable housing, and social life.”
The JPPI believes Israel can entice 30,000 French Jews to come here annually over the next four years if it implements a policy shift away from the older model used in bringing over Jews from Morocco, Ethiopia, and the Soviet Union, he explained.
“The old paradigm was reaching out to in populations in distress…and you send them to [periphery development towns like ] Dimona and then they have nowhere to go. Today people have a choice. People who are not satisfied in Dimona will move back to France or Canada or America.”
Given that French emigres can work all over Europe and that places like the Canadian province of Quebec recognize their degrees and professional qualifications and actively recruit French graduates to move, Israel’s efforts, unless revamped, may prove insufficient to woo young, educated Jews, he added.
According to Maimon, the most important thing Israel can do to bring French Jews en masse to Israel is to “give tax incentives and job creation incentives” as well as provide subsidies for people who could create jobs here.
In its report, the JPPI recommended that Israel should establish an administrative body within the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate all immigration from western Europe, a suggestion that Maimon said is significant because such work requires an increase in scope beyond what can be accomplished by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.
“They are not the right people,” commented Maimon.
The report also recommended the establishment of a commission tasked with removing the administrative barriers prevented French professionals from working here.
When someone can use their French diploma anywhere in Europe and moving to Israel requires new testing just to continue working in a field in which one has toiled for years, there is less incentive to move, he explained.
One option, Maimon recommended, is a two-year, temporary measure to allow for the recognition of French degrees without any bureaucratic hassles.
“The committee will deal with, among other things, issues related to education, academics, military service and contact with the IDF, employment, published work permits and recognition of professional degrees, encouraging the relocation business and capital investment and housing,” according to the report.
Tax benefits, the formation of business incubators geared toward French entrepreneurs and the establishment of French communities and neighborhoods centered around Francophone social services and business enterprises would also serve to promote immigration, JPPI asserted.
Others have made such suggestions in the past.
Speaking with the Post in August, Tel Aviv businessman Edouard Cukierman, the son of Roger Cukierman, the president of the French communal umbrella organization CRIF, said that the Israeli business community must do more to attract French workers.
The Jewish Agency “does a good job for the average immigrant,” but does not know how to address the needs of educated classes from affluent Western nations as well as it deals with mass aliya, Cukierman said, adding that “they have very different needs from the standard immigrant.”
Late last year, the cabinet approved a new initiative to reform the byzantine bureaucracy involved in integrating accredited members of white collar professions into the labor market.
Doctors, physiotherapists, architects and other professionals will have easier transitions to Israeli society, the government announced last November, although no results have yet been announced.
In an interview with the Post earlier this month, absorption Minister Sofa Landver called upon the Ministries of Health, Education, Economy and Finance to lower such all barriers immediately, as a temporary measure pending legislation on the issue.
“We must immediately prepare for the absorption of many thousands of Jews from France. The figures we have already gathered show that thousands of Jews will shortly arrive, and we expect 15,000 this year alone, many more than were expected before the wave of terrorist attacks in France. Unless we put together a plan for their absorption from an economic point of view, they will be liable to emigrate to other countries.
The professionals in the government must review the plan and promote it,” Globes cited Natan Sharansky as saying.
Asked about the plan, a Jewish Agency spokesman said they “welcome all constructive discourse surrounding aliya. The activities of The Jewish Agency and of its partners in the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption reflect the range of possibilities and needs at any given time, in order to best address whatever situations may arise – in France as well as elsewhere.
The ongoing discussions regarding aliya involve a variety of parties and documents such as this one and can be helpful in guiding the conversation and serving as a basis for practical planning among all those concerned.”
A spokesman for the Absorption Ministry said he was not familiar with the JPPI plan.