The cabinet approved a NIS 180 million immigration plan aimed at French, Belgian and Ukrainian Jews on Sunday, a day after a Jewish guard was shot outside a synagogue in the Danish capital of Copenhagen.
Although the sum allocated is lower than the amount initially requested by Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, the allocation still marks a significant increase in Israel’s efforts to promote immigration.
“We say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: Israel is the home of every Jew.”
“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world, I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms,” he added.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the plan, which will be the first of several initiatives aimed at European Jewry, will serve as a road map for the promotion of immigration by creating country-specific “responses to the various needs of immigrants from these countries.”
The decision to include Ukraine in the initiative, which initially focused only on Francophone Jews, drew criticism even before the details of the government plan were released.
According to Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, there is no reason for Ukrainian Jewry to be included in the program.
The Jews of Western Europe “aren’t Soviet Jews, they have unique needs,” he told The Jerusalem Post last week, adding he hoped that Israel would “set up unique programs and structures” for their absorption.
The Jewish community of Ukraine has been badly shaken by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing civil war in the country’s industrial east, while a series of terrorist attacks targeting Jews has led to increased immigration of French Jews.
As part of the plan, the government is set to focus on aliya promotion, “strengthening and adapting absorption processes,” and on special assistance for immigrants from “emergency areas.” It aims to increase the number of aliya emissaries in France, Belgium and Ukraine, to create French- and Russian-language websites providing information on immigration procedures, and to increase budgets for youth groups and organizations promoting aliya.
Among the provisions of the immigration plan are moves to promote Hebrew instruction among prospective immigrants and to raise the number of immigration fairs.
Aside from strengthening traditional promotional tactics, the initiative is also set to provide for counseling on “personally adapted absorption tracks” relating to professionals looking to find work in Israel or to move businesses to it.
Last year, the cabinet voted to appoint an inter-ministerial committee to seek solutions to ease the transition for immigrants and look at ways of removing barriers to employment and integrating new arrivals into the work force.
Speaking with the Post last month, Landver called upon the Ministries of Health, Education, Economy and Finance to lower all barriers immediately, without waiting for new legislation.
While the amount allocated for the plan is only a third of what the Immigration and Absorption Ministry initially sought, “we are happy about what was approved today,” ministry spokesman Elad Sonn told the Post. “It’s still a big sum.”
Since the state budget will not be approved until after the national election in March, further requests for funding will have to wait. The ministry, however, fully intends to “bring a new resolution to the new government,” Sonn said.
In a separate plan submitted by the Jewish People Policy Institute to Netanyahu last month, the organization called for the government to focus its efforts on bringing French Jews on corporate relocation, the lowering of barriers to the transference of professional accreditations and other incentives necessary to bring a highly mobile and educated population to Israel.
Speaking with the Post last week, Dr. Dov Maimon, a French expert who authored the JPPI proposal, said that the government plan lacked tax incentives for companies that relocate, as well as provisions for business incubators and temporary working permits for physicians and other professionals.
On Sunday, JPPI president Avinoam Bar-Yosef called the government initiative a “positive step in the right direction” but said that it “takes into account less than one-third of those eligible to make aliya from Western Europe,” including 120,000 French and Belgian Jews who he described as “strong candidates for aliya.”