Photo Credit: Archive photo: Moshe Milner, GPO

In light of the expected increase in the number of olim in 2016, the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs decided on Monday that olim between the ages of 22 and 26 will be exempt from army service.

Close to 32,000 Jews immigrated to Israel in 2015, and the number is expected to get even higher this year, it was revealed during Monday’s committee meeting. More than 7,000 of those immigrants arrived from the Commonwealth of Independent States; some 8,000 arrived from France; more than 3,000 came from North America; and some 1,400 immigrated to Israel from South America.


Committee Chairman MK Avraham Naguisa (Likud) noted that Israel will see more and more immigrants arriving “due to the deteriorating reality in Europe,” and said government ministries must prepare “for an entirely different number of immigrants.”

MK Mordhay Yogev (HaBayit HaYehudi) said that “these are wonderful numbers, which are the result of global developments, and [immigrants are arriving] from countries we never thought they would come from. We must constantly examine the state’s preparedness for the immigrants with regards to employment, welfare, professional licensing, education, absorption and the army — in order to prevent, as much as possible, the return of immigrants to their home countries.”

MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu) warned that “this is a time in which the country is being tested. The reality in Europe will not improve, and there is a need for an emergency plan with an appropriate budget. Government ministries currently have to absorb twice the amount of immigrants to which we have been accustomed. In the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption there are only 12 employees who speak French, and without the proper preparations, the olim will emigrate to Canada and the United States.”

MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu), a former Minister of Immigrant Absorption, said, “We have decided, in light of the changing reality, to place an emphasis on the budgetary aspects of the immigration from France, Belgium and Ukraine, but we must give special attention to their absorption in relation to housing and employment.”

Yehuda Sharf, director of the Jewish Agency’s Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations Unit, warned that “it is not enough to encourage Aliyah; we must put an emphasis on absorption and provide assistance to the immigrants in housing, employment, and in completing their paperwork at the government ministries. The local authorities are doing sacred work every hour of the day, but apartments must be offered at subsidized rental rates, and the Education Ministry must help prevent the children of immigrants from dropping out of school.”

Dr. Vladimir Sklar, head of the Absorption Ministry’s Community Absorption Department, told the committee that the Ministry would soon open in cities across the country schools for the intensive study of Hebrew (“ulpanim”), where children of immigrants will study for six months before enrolling in regular schools.

Shaul Mutzafi, head of the Housing Assistance Administration in the Ministry of Construction and Housing, called to increase the mortgages and subsidies offered to new immigrants and stressed that the Ministry has not been budgeted adequately despite the growing number of immigrants.

Revital Dotan of the Education Ministry spoke of the training offered to teachers in absorbing immigrant children, while Amos Arbel of the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration said some new immigrants receive their identification cards as soon as they land in Israel, while others receive them online, but he added that the treatment of new immigrants leaves something to be desired “due to language barriers and the need to translate documents.” For example, he said, despite the increase in the number of French immigrants, the Administration hasn’t received authorization to hire even one French-speaker.

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