Despite opposition, Nativ targets German Jews

Encouraging aliya by Jews from Former Soviet Union is to be agency's main focus.

avigdor lieberman 3 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
avigdor lieberman 3
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The government on Sunday approved the entry of Nativ into Germany, even after German Jews, fearing it might have a divisive effect, appealed to their government not to allow the Israeli agency which encourages aliya to operate there. Nativ's first inroads into Germany, which will start in September, will be small. Its budget will increase by just NIS 8 million, giving it four additional salaried positions, just two of them on the ground in Germany. This tiny initial presence will also be implemented in coordination with the Jewish Agency. Nativ's operations will focus on encouraging aliya among the estimated 200,000 Jews from the Former Soviet Union living in Germany, and facilitating absorption in Israel by streamlining the bureaucracy involved. The decision comes despite complaints by the German Jewish umbrella organizations, including the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the welfare organization ZWST, that Nativ would further deepen the rift in the community between the FSU Jews and the older "native" Jewish community, large parts of which had immigrated from Eastern Europe after WWII. At the same time, the umbrella organizations, which are the only representative bodies officially recognized by the German government, have been criticized for their failure to incorporate the FSU Jews into the local Jewish community. This failure has meant that these organizations represent just 10-15 percent of Germany's estimated 220,000 Jews. Once a covert intelligence organization - the name of its director was once a state secret - Nativ is now a pale shadow of its former self. With hundreds of agents throughout Eastern Europe, Nativ was the Israeli government's secret connection to Soviet Jewry when aliya was forbidden and Jewish communal and intellectual life waxed and waned at the whim of the often brutal Soviet authorities. Now, Nativ is a tiny educational organization with a few dozen employees and a handful of cultural centers working to strengthen Jewish identity in the scattered, mostly intermarried Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. At the same time, 2005 saw aliya from the FSU drop below 10,000 per year for the first time since 1988. This reality has called into serious question Nativ's continued relevance, and the push for its expansion comes in no small measure to help secure the organization's very survival. Yet, with its experience dealing with Soviet Jews, Nativ supporters say, it could serve to encourage aliya and Jewish identity among the quickly assimilating communities of FSU Jews in Germany and the US. As a spokesman for Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has ministerial responsibility for Nativ, told The Jerusalem Post after the government decision, only 100 FSU Jews made aliya from the West in 2006, with just 48 of these coming from the 200,000-strong community in Germany. "There's a huge potential here for expanding aliya, and this is our target population," he said. Furthermore, he noted, the government decision marked the very first time in its history that Nativ would enjoy a formal legal status and precisely defined functions, something it lacked through the years as a secret organ of the state. Earlier this month, sources close to the Central Council said they would turn to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to prevent Nativ's entrance into Germany unless it was under the auspices of the Jewish Agency. At the same time, the Jewish Agency complained that Nativ's expansion beyond the borders of the Former Soviet Union amounted to unnecessary duplication, wasted funds and would not help in the outreach to the community. Besides, said Agency officials, it was still considered an "espionage operation" in the outside world, a fact that could constitute a public relations problem. However, Sunday's government decision seemed to garner the approval of all sides to the dispute, except the German umbrella organizations which could not be reached by press time. "Everything is being done with full coordination with the Jewish Agency," an Agency spokesman told the Post. "Nativ won't operate autonomously. That's the agreement. Everything is fully cooperative and coordinated." "Everything will be coordinated with the local Jewish organizations, including the umbrella groups, and with the German government," promised the Strategic Affairs Ministry spokesman.