A heated discussion was held Monday in the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on the fate of 450 elderly olim who live in the Diplomat Hotel, which is slated to become the site of the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem.
The hotel was purchased by the US in 2014. It is currently being leased out as housing for elderly olim from the former Soviet Union. But as the building is set to become part of the US Embassy in June 2020, the residents will have to move out.
Committee Chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) noted that Alex Kushner, Director-General of the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, had promised in a meeting held three months ago that he would provide an update on alternative housing for the olim. “We cannot leave them in suspense, worry and fear of what their future will be and where they will be transferred,” MK Neguise said.
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp), who initiated the discussion on housing options for those who will be forced to leave the hotel, said the elderly immigrants live in the hotel in “uncertainty, fear and insecurity,” and called on the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration to offer them alternative housing.
“We, members of the Knesset, are public emissaries, and our job is to supervise the work of government ministries. And the public comes to us for answers after they do not receive them from the relevant ministries. I will continue to do my work for the public until we all receive a satisfactory answer. The right to a roof over our heads is a basic right. We have lost too much time, but we will not wait any longer. The issue of Diplomat Hotel and its tenants must be solved immediately,” MK Svetlova said.
Director Kushner told the committee that the issue was being discussed with the Jerusalem municipality, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the US Embassy. He presented three possible solutions, but MK Svetlova said at least two of them were not practical.
One option was to extend the Diplomat Hotel’s lease and postpone the handover of the property to the US Embassy. Joshua Zarka, head of the Foreign Ministry`s North American Division, said he did not know of such an option and would be very surprised if the lease would be extended.
Kushner also mentioned the possibility of finding alternative housing in the city, or constructing a new building for the residents. MK Svetlova said in response, “There is no land, no plan, and nothing practical on the ground other than promises.”
Kushner vowed that housing in Jerusalem would be provided for all the residents and added that the ministry’s budget for housing construction for olim includes a solution for the olim living in the Diplomat Hotel.