New D-G to make North top priority

Gal was a former immigrant activist who admitted to serving as a spy for the Mossad in Russia.

Helping olim in the North would be his first priority, new Immigrant Absorption Ministry Director-General Erez Halfon declared Sunday. He was speaking at the ceremony marking the handover of power from outgoing director-general Mirla Gal to Halfon, a former political adviser of Ariel Sharon's. Speaking of immigrants living in the North, Halfon promised, "We'll provide assistance to find solutions for employment, housing and welfare." Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim wished Halfon success and stressed that his background was an "important advantage" in the running of the office and attending to newcomers' welfare. One of Sharon's closest advisers, Halfon coordinated Sharon's events, tours and conventions and acted as a liaison to local authorities, the Likud central committee and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials protecting the prime minister. The local authorities are a particularly important point of connection for the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, since many of its services are coordinated and delivered through them. When Ehud Olmert was elected prime minister, Halfon, 35, continued to coordinate his tours around the country, and he was present during Olmert's recent visits to IDF bases and the navy ship Hanit. He has a degree in social science and communications from Bar-Ilan University, is completing a law degree and served as a deputy general manager of a security firm before starting to work for Sharon in 1998. Halfon has been criticized, however, for his lack of knowledge of Russian. Russian immigrants have already expressed frustration at the limited role of Russian MKs in Kadima and the government, particularly after former deputy immigrant absorption minister Marina Solodkin was overlooked for Boim's post. Gal, who served under former immigrant absorption minister Tzipi Livni, had originally stayed on when Boim entered office in the spring. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.