Israel to Slash Budget for Integrating New Ethiopian Immigrants

Cuts are part of across-the-board cuts the Finance Ministry has ordered at all ministries.

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry will cut NIS 5.5 million from its budget for integrating Ethiopian immigrants this year, while the funds for immigrants from other countries will be cut by only hundreds of thousands of shekels at most.

The Knesset Finance Committee approved the proposal Tuesday.

Moti Milrod

The cuts were part of across-the-board cuts the Finance Ministry has ordered at all ministries. The cabinet has approved the transfer of NIS 10 billion from ministries to pay for a hike in the defense budget, free preschool education from age 3 and other educational programs, and the Negev detention center to house illegal immigrants.

The ministry's annual budget for integrating Ethiopian immigrants is NIS 86.2 million - less than 1 percent of the ministry's total budget of NIS 1.3 billion. The money for the Ethiopian immigrants is used for housing, education, welfare services, community activities, absorption centers and help in finding permanent housing.

According to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry's annual report to the Finance Committee, the ministry was ordered to cut NIS 18.5 million, of which over a third came from the budget for Ethiopian immigrants. The largest cut, NIS 4.5 million, will come from the budget for temporary and permanent housing.

A few years ago, the authorities established a separate program to integrate Ethiopians, with a separate budget. Most of the sections of the ministry's budget presented to the committee are intended for immigrants from all over the world except Ethiopia.

The cabinet decided a week ago to speed up the immigration from Ethiopia from 100 people a month to 250 for the next four months. This makes the decision to cut the Ethiopians' absorption budget all the more surprising - in particular the cut in funds for temporary housing.

MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ), who was born in Ethiopia and is a member of the Finance Committee, called government absorption policy for Ethiopian immigrants a failure. He said the same thing about Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver's role in integrating Ethiopian Jews. Molla asked committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ) to invite Landver to offer explanations to the panel.

For its part, the ministry said that in the across-the-board cutbacks at ministries, Immigrant Absorption suffered a "painful" 4 percent cut from its procurement budget.

"This cut was implemented for all the ministry's divisions. The absorption budget for Ethiopian immigrants also suffered a proportional cut after years during which ... Landver successfully fought off similar attempts to cut it," the ministry said.

"It should be noted that the absorption budget for Ethiopian immigrants is the only one the ministry budgets separately; this makes it difficult to identify the harm that will be done to the absorption of immigrants from France, South Africa, the former Soviet Union and the rest of the world."