MK Katz Proposes Aliyah Day

A new bill proposing the establishment of an annual Aliyah Day represents the latest initiative in what seems to be a growing effort by lawmakers to advance immigration to Israel. Some observers praised the proposal and pledged to support it, while others deemed it unnecessary.

Conceived and written by an American-Israeli aliyah activist and sponsored by National Union MK Yaakov Katz, the bill presented to the Knesset Monday was "designed to strengthen public awareness, especially among the young, of the centrality of aliyah, which shall be done through educational activities, broadcasts and public ceremonies" on the official day.

The bill was written by Yishai Fleisher, a 33-year-old journalist, who was born in Israel but grew up in New Jersey. "Everybody who made aliyah is proud of being here," Fleisher told Anglo File. "We put in our blood and sweat and tears to come here and so this is a day of pride."

Aliyah Day would take place during the week in which the Torah portion "Lekh Lekha" is read, as it tells of God's commanding Abraham to settle in Israel, usually in October or November. Katz presented the bill at the end of a half-day aliyah conference in the Knesset he had sponsored. The Algerian-born Shas MK Chaim Amsellem, who was the only parliamentarian in the room when Katz introduced the bill, signed it immediately.

"It's very important to me that this law will also be exported to the Diaspora, so that [Jewish] schools will celebrate this day like they celebrate Independence day," explained Fleisher, who runs Kumah, an organization encouraging immigration by distributing pro-Israel CDs and movies and through its widely read blog.

Others were less enthusiastic.

"Whether this bill will have any relevance outside of Israel remains to be seen," said American-Israeli sociologist Chaim Waxman, who specializes on immigration. "If the schools' curricula were to include more discussions of aliyah, then perhaps this could raise the consciousness within Israel, but I don't expect a major impact abroad."

Kadima MK and former Jewish Agency chairman Zeev Bielski told Anglo File he would support the bill. Yet he, too, remained skeptical about the hoped-for increase in aliyah. "It won't cause any harm," he joked.

Former minister Rabbi Michael Melchior praised Katz for the proposal but said it is ultimately futile. "Initiatives like this are not worth anything if they're not followed up by a commitment on concrete issues that prove that we want aliyah," he told Anglo File.

Over recent weeks, the government and at least one opposition parliamentarian turned their attention to Western aliyah. In February, the cabinet significantly raised the amount of money it gives to private aliyah group Nefesh B'Nefesh for every immigrant it helps bring to Israel. Earlier this month, two Israeli-born MKs - Yoel Hasson of Kadima and Likud's Carmel Shama - relaunched the Knesset's Lobby for the Encouragement for Aliyah from the West, which Hasson had co-founded during the Knesset's last term.

"I feel very close to this issue and I do everything I can to encourage the government to make more efforts to push aliyah from western countries," Hasson told Anglo File, adding that as chairman of the Knesset's state control committee he specifically aims to combat the red tape many immigrants confront upon arrival.

Melchior, on the other hand, is convinced no real change is taking place. "There are many lobbies that are created that have two meetings and that's it," he said, adding that he knows how the system works because during his 10 years in the Knesset he founded many lobbies himself. "We don't need an extra $500 per immigrant or a lobby or a day in the Knesset. If the government really wanted to do something it would sit down and think about how to create a society immigrants would want to come to, what to do practically to help the people who decide to come, and what they need to do to attract people."