User-friendly aliya

Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES -

Once upon a time, aliya, or im­mi­gra­tion to Is­rael, in­volved no small amount of self-sac­ri­fice. The new im­mi­grant was ex­pected to nav­i­gate Is­rael’s abra­sive ab­sorp­tion ap­pa­ra­tus all alone. Lit­tle ef­fort was made on the part of so-called “civil ser­vants” to cater to the needs of new­com­ers. Un­fath­omable rules and red tape trans­formed seem­ingly sim­ple op­er­a­tions, such as open­ing a bank ac­count or get­ting a land phone line, into a tor­tu­ous stroll on a mod­ern Via Dolorosa. And the myr­iad chal­lenges of start­ing a new life in an em­bat­tled lit­tle Le­van­tine coun­try in the throes of rapid change were ex­ac­er­bated by the ex­pec­ta­tion that, from day one, all trans­ac­tions were ex­pected to be con­ducted in begin­ners’ He­brew.

Times have changed. Is­rael’s cen­trally planned so­cial­ist gov­ern­ment with its Eastern Euro­pean am­biance has given way to a cap­i­tal­is­tic, sup­pos­edly ser­vice-ori­ented cul­ture with one of the most ro­bust and dy­namic economies in the world. To­day, Jews im­mi­grate to Is­rael not just out of ide­al­ism or be­cause they seek refuge from per­se­cu­tion, but be­cause they know they can im­prove their stan­dard of liv­ing and their pro­fes­sional op­tions.

Is­rael’s gov­ern­ment of­fices have changed, too. A con­scious ef­fort is now made to smooth the new im­mi­grant’s ac­cli­ma­tion. Peo­ple are fi­nally be­ing ac­knowl­edged as Is­rael’s most im­por­tant re­source. Ac­cord­ingly, at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing the best and the bright­est needs to be a car­di­nal goal for ev­ery Is­raeli leader.

As part of that na­tional ef­fort, the gov­ern­ment de­cided in Fe­bru­ary 2015 to ex­pand wel­fare ser­vices to French im­mi­grants. Ne­tanya, Jerusalem, Ash­dod, Tel Aviv and Hadera – the cities tak­ing in the largest num­bers of French new­com­ers – were given bud­gets to em­ploy French-speak­ing so­cial work­ers, trans­la­tors and other staff. Sim­i­lar pro­grams were set up to pro­vide for Ukrainian-speak­ing new im­mi­grants.

How­ever, it has re­cently emerged that this valu­able pro­gram will be can­celed at the end of the year.

“Thou­sands of im­mi­grants from France, in­clud­ing el­derly cit­i­zens, chil­dren with spe­cial needs, sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies, fe­male vic­tims of vi­o­lence, at-risk youth and more, won’t re­ceive so­cial ser­vices,” ac­cord­ing to Ariel Kan­del, CEO of Qualita, the um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion for French im­mi­grants.

Kan­del told The Jerusalem Post’s Jewish World re­porter, Tamara Zieve, that Qualita has not been given a rea­son as to why the project will not be re­newed, but mused that it could be be­cause the num­bers of olim from France have dropped.

The coun­try topped the aliya charts in 2015 with al­most 8,000 new im­mi­grants; but in 2016 that de­creased to 5,200 and seems to have fur­ther de­creased in 2017, with 2,904 ar­riv­ing be­tween Jan­uary and Au­gust, ac­cord­ing to the Jewish Agency. The stereo­type of the French im­mi­grant as rich and highly ed­u­cated is overly sim­plis­tic. French-speak­ing im­mi­grants come from all walks of life.

If their lower aliya rate is in­deed the rea­son that the pro­gram is be­ing dis­con­tin­ued, it is wrong­headed on a num­ber of lev­els. First, as Kan­del pointed out, large num­bers of im­mi­grants have come to Is­rael from France in re­cent years and the sec­ond and third years of aliya are usu­ally the hard­est.

Also, the gov­ern­ment seems to have its cause and ef­fect mixed up. When word gets out that French and Ukrainian im­mi­grants are en­coun­ter­ing dif­fi­cul­ties find­ing hous­ing, work or ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties, this not only causes some im­mi­grants to re­turn, it also de­ters po­ten­tial im­mi­grants from com­ing. If any­thing, the gov­ern­ment should be ex­pand­ing ser­vices, not scal­ing them back, as one se­nior of­fi­cial told Zieve.

Thank­fully, it seems that Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has per­son­ally in­ter­vened on be­half of the new im­mi­grants. He has re­port­edly asked So­cial Af­fairs Min­is­ter Haim Katz to fig­ure out a way to con­tinue fund­ing the pro­gram. Fi­nance Min­istry sources said that fund­ing is likely to be found quickly, but cau­tioned that the project still hadn’t re­ceived fi­nal ap­proval.

Is­rael’s fu­ture depends on its sin­gle most im­por­tant re­source, its cit­i­zens, and aliya is just one of sev­eral op­tions weighed by the po­ten­tial im­mi­grant. If the gov­ern­ment wants more Jews to come live in their home­land, it is go­ing to have to al­lo­cate the re­sources to help make that hap­pen.

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