Israel Unveils New Incentives to Lure French Jews

Plan includes removal of obstacles restricting professionals from working in Israel, and helping youngsters adjust to new learning challenges.

A team headed by Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver will unveil details of a new multimillion shekel government incentive package on Tuesday, designed to entice Jews planning to leave France to make Israel their new home.

Landver told Haaretz that the government expected “thousands” of French Jews to immigrate to Israel within the next few years. Last year alone, more than 3,000 French Jews immigrated to Israel – an increase of 60 percent compared with 2012. It was the first time immigration from France outstripped immigration from the United States.

The dramatic increase in immigration from France has been attributed to two key factors: rising anti-Semitism and the bad economy there.

The new program, Landver said, was expected to take effect within the next few days, as soon as the Knesset Finance Committee approved a Finance Ministry request to transfer some of last year’s budget surplus to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.

Asked how much money would be required, Landver said the exact amount of funding would depend on how many immigrants arrived but estimated that its implementation would require “millions” of shekels.

The plan, which will be officially presented to the Knesset Tuesday afternoon, includes the following measures:

Eliminating obstacles that prevent new immigrants from working in their professions

Many new immigrants encounter difficulties transferring their professional credentials to Israel, and are often forced to undergo retraining or pass a series of tests before they can be certified to work here. To remove such disincentives to immigration, Landver said that requirements for transferring professional certification would be loosened, “even changing the laws, if need be.”

Providing special assistance to school-age children

The new plan will provide for special after-school programs for children of French immigrants, to facilitate a smoother transition for them and allow them to catch up in Hebrew while freeing their parents to establish themselves professionally.

Increasing tuition aid for French university students

The plan will boost funding to the government-run Student Administration – which provides scholarships – in order to allow more French students to pursue university studies free of charge.

In addition, the plan also would boost funding for special ulpans (Hebrew-language immersion courses) that would also provide students with job training and vocational skills.

The committee, headed by Landver, was comprised of representatives of the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, the Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod and the World Zionist Organization. The chief coordinator was Immigrant Absorption Ministry director general Oded Forer.

Its recommendations were based on a report presented by a fact-finding mission headed by Landver that recently visited France and met with leaders of the Jewish community.

In anticipation of the expected arrival of thousands of Jews from France, said Landver, her ministry recently recruited a new team of French speakers to assist the new immigrants as they adjust to life in Israel.

“The Jews of France have other places they can go,” said Landver. “If they don’t come to Israel, that’s a great loss for us.”

The French Jews who have moved to Israel in recent years have tended to be more affluent and educated than those who came in previous waves. They have also been inclined to gravitate toward the center of the country, particularly Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Herzliya and Ra’anana.

Eyal Warshavsky / BauBau
Tomer Appelbaum
Reuters