The number of immigrants from India’s Bnei Menashe community will be tripled during this year, Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin said Wednesday at a meeting of the Knesset’s Immigration and Absorption Committee.
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About two weeks ago, the cabinet decided to freeze the process of bringing the remaining members of the Falashmura community from Ethiopia to Israel until the state budget is up for debate again. Only three months ago the cabinet approved bringing to Israel 9,000 people who are waiting in Addis Ababa and Gondar.
Elkin said some 700 Bnei Menashe immigrants will be brought during the year, compared to 260 last year, and the budget earmarked for their absorption will be doubled to 2.2 million shekels (about $550,000). The Bnei Menashe community currently numbers some 3,000, 600 of whom were born in Israel.
Many community members are having difficulty adjusting to life in Israel. The largest group – some 700 people – lives in Kiryat Arba and about half of them require social services. According to the region’s social affairs bureau, the number of needy community members has risen by about 14 percent from 2014 to 2015. Also, 73 percent of the community’s teenagers are classified as being at risk.
“Their employment rate is also low due to their difficulty in speaking Hebrew and only 42 percent of the community’s children go to school,” said Malachi Levinger, head of the Kiryat Arba local council, at the Knesset debate.
He said the state must allocate funds for assistance to these children in the schools and to prepare them for military service and the workplace.
Shai Alon, head of the Beit El local council, said the veteran immigrants needed the most help. He said hundreds of Bnei Menashe members who live in Beit El receive only a few thousand shekels from the state every year, a sum that does not answer their needs.
Elkin said his ministry will take steps to help the new immigrants and improve the older immigrants’ conditions. For example, the Bnei Menashe will be recognized as immigrants for 15 years, like the immigrants from Ethiopia, five years more than other immigrants. They will receive assistance from the state throughout this period and the state will allocate more funds to the local governments that take them in, Elkin said.
“They need prolonged treatment because they come from another background with hardships they need help in overcoming,” Elkin told Haaretz. He said he was advancing a cabinet decision to grant the second generation of Bnei Menashe immigrants assistance as well.
However, the Social Affairs Ministry said it was not briefed on the increased immigration and did not receive added funds accordingly. This will lead to a shortage of social workers who speak the Bnei Menashe’s language and can help the newcomers.
“The Social Affairs Ministry wasn’t part of this decision and the social affairs minister will raise the need for more money for social workers at the cabinet,” the ministry’s representative Dafni Moshayov said at the meeting.
Committee chairman MK Avraham Nagosa (Likud) said the decision to increase the number of Bnei Menashe who will be permitted to come to Israel, while freezing the cabinet decision to bring the Falashmura here two weeks ago, stems from discrimination against Jews from Ethiopia.
“It’s unthinkable that they stop immigration from one place and increase it from another,” he told Haaretz.
“I welcome increasing the Bnei Menashe immigration, but it doesn’t make sense that they can bring 700 of them in one year, but cannot bring a similar number of Falashmura in a gradual process,” Nagosa said.
The main excuse for not bringing the Falashmura is the high cost of absorbing them – 2.2 billion shekels, according to the Prime Minister’s Office estimate. “But the cost, which they say there are no resources to cover, stems from housing grants that are only given to this community,” he said.
“The state doesn’t give housing grants and mortgages of half a million shekels per person to the Bnei Menashe immigrants. If they did, they would have difficulty bringing them, too. This is discrimination between one group of Jews and another. The Bnei Menashe’s immigration is very similar to the Falashmura,” he said.