MKs spar over best date to honor aliya

Legislation to mark a day in honor aliya and immigrants, that was nearly a consensus among Zionist parties, became unexpectedly controversial.

Over two hundred new olim arrive on flight of IFCJ aliya initiative (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Over two hundred new olim arrive on flight of IFCJ aliya initiative
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Legislation to mark a day honoring aliya and immigrants, which was nearly a consensus among Zionist parties, became unexpectedly controversial on Monday, with a debate about when the date should be.
The “Aliya Day” bill, which has been proposed in various forms in the last three Knessets, was brought to a debate in the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee following a preliminary reading. The bill states that on “Aliya Day,” the government and Knesset will hold special meetings and schools will have ceremonies and classes to honor immigration and immigrants.
The proposal originally suggested that the day be marked on the 10th of the Hebrew month of Nissan, which is the date on which Joshua first led the Israelites across the Jordan River, in a sense, the first mass aliya in history.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation authorized the bill on condition that the date be changed, because the 10th of Nissan is closer to Passover and both schools and the Knesset are usually in recess at that time.
Immigration Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin suggested changing Aliya Day to the seventh of Heshvan, shortly after the autumn holidays, and around the time the “Lech Lecha” Torah portion is read, in which Abraham is told to leave his home and go to the Land of Israel.
MK Miki Zohar (Likud), however, insisted that the 10th of Nissan is symbolic and ideological, in that it “strengthens our right to the land when facing the international community, which claims we are occupying it.”
Zohar said he would vote against the bill if Aliya Day is on any other day, and without his vote, it cannot pass, because the coalition is so narrow.
“The 10th of Nissan is not appropriate,” Elkin said after the meeting. “Jewish organizations already have activities at the time of ‘Lech-Lecha,’ which is the first aliya to Israel. Everyone is at work and school on that day, and it makes activities possible."
“Whoever wants a real Aliya Day should support the 7th of Heshvan,” Elkin stated.
Former immigration and absorption minister MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beytenu) said “taking a day whose importance is in that it will be marked broadly in all Israeli institutions and putting it on a day when there is no Knesset or school, so it can’t be marked, is emptying the bill of all content.
“Setting the day on the date Zohar proposed harms immigrants,” she added. “When Aliya Day is celebrated, we must celebrate the contributions, wealth and variety we gained as a country, because of the waves of immigration.”
Jay Schulz, president of the Land of Israel Foundation and founder of TLV Internationals, which helped draft the bill several years ago, advocated for keeping the original date, and suggested a compromise by which aliya would celebrated on the 7th of Heshvan in schools but be a national holiday on the 10th of Nissan, during which children, who don’t have school, can celebrate with their families. Zohar supports the compromise.
Elkin, however, called the compromise and Zohar’s insistence on the 10th of Nissan “bizarre.”
Schulz warned that he will use his connections with Likud central committee members and donors to make sure the bill passes with the 10th of Nissan included in it.
“We don’t know the date that Lech Lecha happened. Choosing this time of year is whimsical, not based on our tradition. Lech Lecha isn’t a bold aliya story, it’s a personal family journey... that is the old story of aliya to Israel as a refugee, running away from anti-Semitism,” Schulz added.
“The 10th of Nissan was a glorious, miraculous, national historic event, the culmination of 40 years of wandering to make it home... The whole nation of Israel came across together with a national mission to settle and build the Land of Israel... That’s the miraculous story we want in the hearts and minds of Jews around the globe,” Schulz said.
Meanwhile, the bill is stuck as Zohar refuses to vote for anything other than the 10th of Nissan.
“Until [Zohar] agrees, we can’t vote,” Elkin said. “Everyone is surprised by his insistence.”