INN Investigation: Is Aliyah from America Being Shunted Aside?
A different kind of “aliyah revolution” is in the making, and according to aliyah activists as well as officials of the Absorption Ministry, it's a regressive revolution, one that will damage – perhaps severely – the aliyah effort, especially from North America.
At a meeting this week, the Jewish Agency ratified a plan it approved last summer that would change the focus of the organization from encouraging aliyah to encouraging Disapora-Israel ties – in the hope that education on Israel would lead to those inclined to do so to make aliyah.
The plan, titled “Securing the Future: Forging a Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish People,” entails revamping the Jewish Agency to develop programs connecting Israel and Diaspora Jewry, strengthening Jewish identity in the Diaspora, expanding programs, such as MASA, that bring youth to Israel on trips and extended stays – and, of course, encouraging aliyah.
With the shift in focus, though, a number of programs that had been in place to provide assistance to North American Jews to make aliyah have been off-loaded from the Jewish Agency. Some of these programs had been moved to the Absorption Ministry. A veteran of the aliyah movement told Israel National News, that one result will be that North American Jews seeking to make aliyah are destined to “fall through the safety net” of aliyah, getting shunted aside by both the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry.
“One of the casualties of this situation is a program called Aliyah Kehilatit, which brought individuals and communities to all parts of Israel,” the aliyah worker with over 25 years of experience in the field told INN. “The program has been very successful over the past decade, and hundreds of families were resettled in communities from big cities to development towns, all over the country. Each community had a project director to guide families in the process of making aliyah, getting work, finding a home, etc. - the nuts and bolts of aliyah.”
That project is to be closed at the end of the year, though – to be replaced by other projects, that will be far less ambitious and far more poorly funded than the original program, the aliyah worker added.
Why? According to the worker, good, old-fashioned 'protekzia' may have something to do with it. “While they are cutting programs for North Americans, they are expanding programs for Russians and immigrants from former Soviet Union countries,” he said. “The powers that be in the Ministry say that they are getting a lot more immigrants from Russia, and that they should be concentrating their efforts there.”
As an example, the worker points to a gathering of scientists that took place on Tuesday, where immigrant scientists were awarded for their work. “Most of the scientists were Russian. The Ministry spent 2 million shekels ($550,000) on this 'party,' which would have been enough to keep the Aliyah Kehilatit program going for awhile. It's pretty clear where the Ministry's priorities are,” the aliyah worker stated.
Considering that the Ministry's top staff are themselves Russian, there is a smell of 'protezia' involved, he added.
The Jewish Agency is a semi-governmental organization with a specific mission – to encourage aliyah. It is not an educational organization.
So, with the Jewish Agency out of the picture and the Absorption Ministry following its own agenda, who will help North American Jewry make aliyah? The answer, at this point, is Nefesh b'Nefesh, which has been quite successful in bring American and Canadian Jews to Israel. But, according to the worker, NBN is not an ideal solution. “NBN does wonderful work, but it is a private organization, and as such could be involved in legal issues that a government is immune to. If NBN gets sued, it will shut down aliyah from North America altogether.”
One solution, according to the worker, would be to make NBN an official arm of the Israeli government, like the Jewish Agency – but if it were, the organization would lose its tax-free status as a social service organization in the U.S. “The Jewish Agency is fine letting NBN do what is supposed to be its job, and funds NBN with tens of millions of shekels a year,” the worker added. “But the whole situation is very short-sighted, and we are a 'heartbeat away,' so to say, from a major aliyah crisis.” As such, he concluded that North American aliyah is in danger of being “abandoned” by Israeli officials.
Nonsense, a source in the Absorption Ministry responded to Israel National News, saying that North American Jews who wish to make aliyah have nothing to worry about. “The accusations that we are favoring the Russians is ridiculous,” the source said. “Sixty percent of our budget to encourage aliyah is spent in North America, and once an immigrant arrives here, they are treated like everyone else and supplied with all the benefits they are supposed to get.”
If anything, the source said, the Ministry is soldiering on in a difficult situation. “The 'return-on-investment' – the amount of money we spend on encouraging aliyah compared to the results – is very low from North America, where not more than 2,500 people come on an annual basis. We have to take into account all groups, which is why we run events for different communities, but to say we favor one group over another is ridiculous and insulting.” Regarding the event for scientists on Tuesday, the source said that scientists from all over the world were included – including those from the United States.
The source added that the latest round of complaints is due to the abandonment by the Jewish Agency of its role in encouraging aliyah. “We have protested numerous times to the Jewish Agency about this change of direction. The Jewish Agency is a semi-governmental organization with a specific mission – to encourage aliyah. It is not an educational organization, and without its support of aliyah in North America, there is no doubt that the cause of aliyah will be damaged.”