Analysis: Edri was 'missing minister' in an empty ministry

Could the problem be not that Edri did nothing during his year in office, but that actually, there was nothing for him to do?

edri 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
edri 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Knesset lawmakers made a small but significant change to the laws governing returning Israelis recently by approving a reduction in the waiting time faced by returning residents before their health insurance kicks in. While this change will help to entice Israelis living abroad to return here, the reform also highlights the diminishing importance of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the contribution - or lack thereof - over the past year of the recently departed immigrant absorption minister, Ya'acov Edri (Kadima). While Edri arguably assisted in propelling the ministry's drive to bring Israelis back home and, of course, never missed a photo opportunity to greet new immigrants at Ben-Gurion Airport, when push came to shove this week, and on several other occasions this year, he was nowhere to be found. (It was actually two other MKs - Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) - who pushed through the change for returning Israelis.) In fact, it is Edri's absence from the most pressing immigrant absorption issues - the Education Ministry's cutbacks to the ulpan system, the inauguration of a comprehensive program to assist thousands of struggling Ethiopian olim, and the cutting of red tape for returning citizens - that was most notable during his year on the job. "All I can say is thankfully the professional civil service staff at the ministry does not change each time a new minister comes along," said one source who works closely with Ethiopian immigrants. "In just over a year, we've had three different immigrant absorption ministers. It's almost as though this position is a training ground for new government ministers to gain some experience in the cabinet." This sentiment was echoed on Wednesday by several other organizations that work with immigrant populations. All agreed that the ministers, both old and new - Eli Aflalo (Kadima) has now replaced Edri - were sadly just figureheads in an office used by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert simply to keep the cabinet full of his supporters. If he really cared about helping immigrants, they said, he would have appointed an MK who was passionate about such issues. "This ministry has no real political value or status for most politicians," said another source. "For Ze'ev Boim [also of Kadima, who was minister before Edri], Edri and Aflalo the populations served by this ministry do not provide them with any constituency and that is why it's not highly regarded by politicians." While most immigrant organizations had very little to say about Edri's achievements in office, they stopped short of criticizing the former Or Akiva mayor, focusing instead on questioning the relevance of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry when a growing number of nongovernment organizations are stepping up to provide essential assistance to new immigrants. With the reduced ulpan service still falling under the Education Ministry's jurisdiction - in May, Edri said he did not want his ministry taking on the responsibility of teaching new immigrants Hebrew - and the role of encouraging aliya taken by the Jewish Agency and other NGOs, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry is nothing more than a glorified administration service that hands out documents for new immigrants to claim their state benefits, say those who work in the field. So could the problem be not that Edri did nothing during his year in office, but that actually, there was nothing for him to do?