Landver: We must save plan for Ethiopian absorption

Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver warned this week that a five-year plan for better absorption and integration of Ethiopian olim into society is under threat. "The state must take control of the plan and make sure it fulfills its promises to the Ethiopian community," said Landver, from Israel Beiteinu. The five-year plan was initiated in the wake of advocacy campaigns by Ethiopian groups that began in 2006. Created by the Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption, its goal is to increase funding and coordination among the many government programs addressing problems facing Ethiopian Jewish absorption into society. The plan's execution has been criticized by groups such as the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews for acting too slowly to distribute its NIS 870 million budget and for implementing programs with insufficient oversight. Speaking to the Knesset Finance Committee on Tuesday, Landver blasted the decision to cut the budget for the five-year plan by NIS 170m. in the 2009-2010 state budget, a reduction put into the omnibus Economic Arrangements Bill by the Finance Ministry. She also complained that the funds were being drawn out of existing ministerial budgets, instead of coming as additions to existing budgets. "Aliya is not an obligation, but a privilege. The plan must be fully funded, and must be paid as additions to ministry funds, not by increasing the demands made on current budgets," Landver told MKs. She also objected to the Treasury decision to transfer oversight for the plan's budget from the Absorption Ministry to the ministries implementing individual programs under the plan. The move amounts to dismantling the centralized oversight, "which will harm implementation in the various ministries," the Absorption Ministry said in a statement. "The State of Israel has to level with the olim and fulfill all the promises it made to them," said Landver. While she vowed to work to protect the plan, Ethiopian advocacy groups, too, might play a part in the fight to restore the budgets for absorption programs. The Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews has already petitioned the High Court of Justice to protect the five-year plan from cutbacks, and in April, when the budget cut was discovered in the Economic Arrangements Bill, a representative of the group threatened to turn to the High Court once again. The Finance Ministry could not be reached for comment by press time.