By Zvika Klein, February 16, 2023
The current budget doesn’t include enough for the 75,000 immigrants who arrived in 2022 to receive all of the relevant services, Aliyah and Integration Minister Ofir Sofer warned.
During a discussion at the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Sofer said the ministry was used to handling 20,000-30,000 immigrants per year, and it is not keeping up.
“Israel is facing a dramatic moment,” Sofer said. “Either we take the opportunity and help integrate these immigrants correctly, or there will be huge chaos.”
Most of the olim arrived from Russia and Ukraine.
“We have been working in emergency mode,” Sofer said, explaining ministry staff have struggled to ensure that every immigrant’s needs are met.
“The expectation is that the surge in the number of immigrants will continue this year as well,” he added. “If we don’t receive a proper budgetary response from the Finance Ministry, the ministry won’t be able to hold on any longer.”
Sofer shared as well that his goal is to offer each immigrant an optimal support package during their first two years here, which will include “adaptation grants, an absorption basket and funds towards rent. We will have to do a number of actions for the reception [of the olim] to be 100% optimal.
“I do not intend to give up on providing a wide range of possibilities for immigrants to study the Hebrew language in a variety of ways such as online and with flexible hours. Unfortunately, the issue of integration has been pushed aside publicly and isn’t on the media’s agenda.”
He added that if a proper response to absorption is not given to olim during their first year in Israel, the Aliyah will not be successful and that the message will be “the State of Israel does not intend to integrate new immigrants.”
Sofer just returned from a visit to France. There, he shared, he “felt how much the issue of the cost of living in Israel is a significant barrier to immigrating to Israel. The [current government’s] rent assistance is not significant, certainly in light of the increase in real estate prices in the last year.”
Jewish Agency representative Shai Felber said “there are currently 62,000 Aliyah applications of Diaspora Jews who are waiting to receive a permit to arrive in Israel.”
Committee chairman Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer said Israel is “in an emergency [situation]; we need to respond immediately. Immigration to the Land of Israel is the essence of Zionism, and we are in a unique period with immigration numbers that we haven’t seen for the past 20 years.” Forer added that “the Jewish people are returning to the Land of Israel, and if we’re smart, we need to make [it possible for] them [to] stay here.
“The intention to change the Law of Return with the cancellation of the Grandchild Clause caused an erosion of the status of Aliyah and very harsh statements from the public toward Aliyah to Israel,” Forer concluded.
Likud MK Dan Illouz demanded an “immediate implementation of an emergency plan to bring Jews from France to Israel.” Illouz emphasized both the antisemitism there and the continued desire to immigrate to Israel.
“The government must put its focus on this issue and initiate an emergency plan before it is too late,” he said.
“In recent years, French Jews have suffered and continue to suffer from violent antisemitism. Examples include the lynching and murder of Ilan Halimi, the massacre in a school in Toulouse, the attack at the Hypercacher [supermarket], the murder of Sarah Halimi, the murder of Mireille Knoll. These are just examples of the most horrendous events. How many more tragedies must we endure before we take action? Time is running out. We can’t be complacent and must act immediately,” Illouz said.
CEO of the One Million Lobby Alex Rif, who made Aliyah from the former Soviet Union as a child, said “it’s been 30 years since I immigrated to Israel; my engineer mother works as a cleaner because she barely had time to attend ulpan since she needed to earn a living. We keep on repeating the same mistakes, again and again.”