'State should finance all aspects of immigrant absorption'

Sharansky: Gov't must provide immigrant services; ministry willing to take over programs, but needs gov’t approval.

Natan Sharansky 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Natan Sharansky 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
It is time for the Israeli government to take full financial responsibility for long-term immigrant absorption programs, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said Monday in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Sharansky stated that while the agency’s natural role should be connecting Israel and the Diaspora, encouraging aliya and addressing the immediate needs of new immigrants, it is up to the government to provide services once full citizenship is granted.
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“We are holding negotiations on all the levels to have the government take over long-term absorption projects,” Sharansky said, highlighting how the traditional relationship between the agency and the government has shifted significantly over the years. “In 1948, the government’s budget was small and the Jewish Agency’s was bigger, now Israel is a strong country and world Jewry is less rich proportionally.” Currently, the agency provides partial funding for several absorption centers and a number of key programs for new immigrants, including the Student Authority, which provides financial support for immigrant students, and Hebrew language study programs known as “ulpanim,” in partnership with the government.
“It is time for us to think about what is right for the agency to be supporting and what is right for the government,” said Sharansky, explaining that the 80-yearold organization relies mostly on funds raised abroad from international Jewry.
“We can always go to world Jewry and ask for more money,” he continued, adding that while it is relatively easy to raise money for causes such as the immigration of Ethiopian Jews or for Jewish life on university campuses worldwide, it is more challenging to raise funds for absorption programs inside Israel.
“We are having discussions with the government on very deep levels and we will not simply drop these programs until the government is ready to take them over, but we hope it will happen in the next two or three years,” he said.
Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver confirmed on Monday that discussions had been held between her ministry and the Jewish Agency regarding taking over long-term absorption programs.
Moreover, she said she plans to meet with government officials in the coming weeks about securing adequate funding for these programs.
“We have the ability to take over these programs and it is right and natural for the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to run them, but we cannot do it automatically – we need government approval and financial support,” she told the Post.
According to Landver, there is an agreement between the agency and the government concerning which bodies are responsible for programs for lone soldiers, immigrant students and Hebrew language instruction, as well as the support of certain groups of immigrants in absorption centers.
“The Jewish Agency took responsibility for these programs and they cannot just get up and leave,” she said. “I want to help Sharansky but at the moment we simply do not have the funds.” Landver estimated that aiding the agency would require the addition of NIS 100 million in government funding to the ministry’s annual budget.
“The budget for supporting immigration is no less important than for security,” said Landver, stating that she had already spoken with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and planned to hold further meetings on the issue later this month.
In response, a spokeswoman from the Finance Ministry said that a government takeover of agency programs would be based on individual examinations of each program and according to the priorities and budget of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.