The Knesset needs an Aliyah Committee - opinion

The Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee was not established in the 24th Knesset for political reasons.

 OPENING EVENT of a French immigrants’ lobby at the Knesset in 2014.  (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
OPENING EVENT of a French immigrants’ lobby at the Knesset in 2014.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Something significant is missing in the current Knesset.

Yes, there is a government; yes, there is a functioning parliament with a coalition and an opposition; and yes, committees are meeting.

Well, all except for one: the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee that for purely political reasons has not been established in the 24th Knesset.

The coalition handed the chairmanship of this committee to the opposition, part of the standard arrangement whereby the opposition is given the chance to lead a few committees. But due to Knesset infighting, the opposition has not appointed a Knesset member to chair this committee, and as a result, the committee doesn’t exist.

What does it say about the Knesset’s commitment to olim – those who move countries to live in Israel – and the Diaspora world if it has allowed petty politics to prevent the establishment of the very committee that deals with their specific issues?

 NEW IMMIGRANTS from North America receive a shofar’s welcome upon arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport on a special ‘aliyah flight’ on behalf of Nefesh B’Nefesh.  (credit: FLASH90) NEW IMMIGRANTS from North America receive a shofar’s welcome upon arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport on a special ‘aliyah flight’ on behalf of Nefesh B’Nefesh. (credit: FLASH90)

Last week the country celebrated Yom Haaliyah, but despite the laudatory speeches in the Knesset plenary highlighting the importance of aliyah and praising olim, there was no dedicated committee to celebrate the day.

How absurd is that?

The Special Committee for Public Petitions held a hearing about government agencies providing services in many languages to help olim. The Education Committee planned a hearing about olim and the education system, which was canceled. That was it. The lack of a dedicated committee on the topic of olim stood out.

One Knesset member, Yomtob Kalfon (Yamina), hosted a large gathering to celebrate Yom Ha’aliyah that focused on olim from France, and I applaud him. In addition, Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata has established a cabinet of ministers to work on immigration issues, and she deserves credit for all that she is doing for aliyah and olim. But as the minister herself said at Kalfon’s gathering, it is unacceptable that there is no Knesset committee dedicated to aliyah.

Tamano-Shata even noted that ministers would generally rejoice if there was no Knesset committee to oversee their ministries. But she demanded that this committee be established immediately because it provides the opportunity for olim – and organizations that work with olim – to have their voices heard in the house of Israeli democracy.

Moreover, I should point out this committee also serves as an opportunity for Diaspora organizations and Diaspora Jews themselves to have their voices heard in the Knesset, an opportunity now lost.

Members of Knesset speak a lot about the importance of aliyah and Diaspora Jewry, but they don’t appear overly concerned about not providing a public platform to hear the voices of olim and Diaspora Jews.

The past year and a half has been challenging for everyone around the world, but immigrants – who have moved here far from their families – have suffered even more, trying to adjust to their new lives without the support of family, who weren’t allowed into the country to visit them, to celebrate with them or to mourn with them. And it was very difficult to get our decision-makers to take the needs of olim and their families into account while decisions were being made to close the borders to protect the health of Israelis.

Of course, protecting the health of the public is paramount. At the same time, there were creative ways to balance that concern with reuniting olim and their families, and it took months for the government to accept suggestions and ideas from myself and other advocates like former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh.

The lack of government initiative in solving the range of never-ending oleh problems is what led me to establish Yad L’Olim, which enables us to focus on government relations on behalf of olim.

The painful experience of hearing on a daily basis the sadness of olim, their families and Diaspora Jews who love and miss Israel leads me to conclude that the absence of a Knesset committee that relates to aliyah and the Diaspora is not simply the result of internal Knesset politics; it really reflects an overall lack of concern among our elected officials on the importance of this issue.

This has to change.

If the opposition refuses to appoint a committee chairman to enable the committee to function, then Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levi must take the committee back into the hands of the coalition. They must quickly name a committee chairman – perhaps Kalfon – and begin to hold hearings.

The time has come to transform all the pleasantries about welcoming aliyah and the importance of Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora into practice, and for the 24th Knesset to immediately establish its Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee.

The writer, who served as an MK in the 19th Knesset, is the founder of Yad L’Olim.