The cabinet approved a special NIS 180 million ($46 million) budget on Sunday to finance the costs of absorbing thousands of new immigrants expected to arrive in Israel this year from Ukraine, France and Belgium.
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“We are telling our Jewish brothers and sisters that Israel is your home,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the cabinet meeting. “We are bracing ourselves and calling for a mass immigration from Europe.”
Under the Law of Return, all Jewish immigrants to Israel are entitled to a package of financial benefits. The government expects the sharp upward trend evident in immigration from Ukraine, France and Belgium last year to strengthen even further in the coming year. In Ukraine, this increase has been attributed to the political turmoil in the country, while in France and Belgium, it has been associated with a combination of rising anti-Semitism and a weak economy.
The supplemental budget approved today is earmarked for information fairs, subsidized Hebrew lessons, extra office staff, and beefed up social and employment services.
According to figures published by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, a record number of 6,658 Jews immigrated to Israel from France last year – more than double the previous year’s number. Last month alone, the ministry reported that 1,835 new files were opened for candidates for immigration from France. The Jewish Agency expects 15,000 French Jews to immigrate to Israel this year.
Last year, 5,921 Jews immigrated to Israel from Ukraine – more than triple the previous year’s number. Last month alone, the ministry reported, 1,300 new files were opened for candidates for immigration from Ukraine.
Although immigration from Belgium has been on a much smaller scale in absolute terms, the percentage increase has been dramatic, ever since the terror attack last spring outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said in response to the cabinet decision that allocated extra funding this year to immigration absorption was not sufficient, and that it was incumbent on the government to come up with a long-term plan that addresses the housing and employment needs of new arrivals to the country. “Without long-term solutions to these issues, Israel will have a hard time attracting immigrants seeking a new future,” he said.