Boim to present plan to Knesset for successful absorption of Ethiopians

Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim will present a comprehensive plan to the Knesset Immigrant Absorption Committee Monday, with the aim of improving the absorption of Ethiopian olim into Israeli society and solving some of the serious hardships faced by the 104,000-strong community. The plan includes requests to raise the overall budget for mortgage grants given to Ethiopian immigrants, which currently stands at NIS 220 million, by NIS 55m. a year; develop an aid package for programs in neighborhoods where Ethiopian immigrants make up more than 10 percent of the residents; increase the number of Ethiopian employees in the public sector; and build an intensive program to address the social welfare needs of the community, more than 60% of whom have files with social services. "This program is part of an overall develop plan designed to strengthen the Ethiopian community," Boim commented to The Jerusalem Post. "It is a wide-ranging program that will include subsidized academic education, an investment in social welfare programs, employment programs and a large budget for improving integration." "I hope that Monday's meeting will bring good news and that the financing will not prevent our program from being realized," Boim added. "We are just happy that a minister is interested in pushing for changes in these areas," commented Avi Masfin, spokesman of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, an organization that lobbies to raise awareness of the issues facing the community. "We see it as a very positive step, we just hope that the ministers on the committee, including Prime Minister [Ehud Olmert], will act upon these suggestions." One of the gravest problems impeding the integration of new Ethiopian immigrants into Israeli society is the limited mortgage grant, which today stands at between $50,000 and $70,000. Organizations representing the community, such as IAEJ, argue that this relatively low sum forces new immigrants to purchase property in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and does not offer them a chance to break out of the poverty cycle. "The only places they can live are the cheaper neighborhoods," said Masfin. Underscoring Masfin's point, former mayor of Or Yehuda Yitzhak Bukobza told the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee last week that Ethiopian immigrants had even been known to buy housing in areas of town already been slated for demolition because the prices were low. According to Boim, while increasing mortgage benefits and extending them to young couples from the community's second generation will go a long way towards solving some of the problems faced by Ethiopian immigrants, there is still a need to strengthen the community's social fabric, as well change some of the perceptions of Ethiopians held by native Israelis. Aside from proposing to increase aid to neighborhoods with a prominent Ethiopian population, introduce social and educational programs, and establish inter-ministerial committees to tackle the more serious issues, Boim's plan also aims to institute affirmative action for Ethiopians in government service. Last month, the IAEJ lobbied the government with a study that showed an encouraging rise in the number of Ethiopian Israelis completing higher education but highlighting that despite this, only a handful of Ethiopians work in Israel's public sector. Boim's proposals would remedy this, with a certain number of spots retained for citizens of Ethiopian descent and even reforms to the service's entry exams to accommodate candidates from the community. Boim plans to request NIS 3m. to implement the changes and increase the number of Ethiopians hired.