Haviv Rettig Gur

On the defunding of absorption programs

Lena Glaser is a new olah who wrote this week about her concerns over news that absorption programs are going to be drastically defunded.

Over the past couple of months, the Government and the Jewish Agency For Israel have drastically defunded and eliminated parts of the Aliyah “basket” we were promised. Yet, as Olim, we were never informed of these changes, and without these services, we are losing a lot.


These eliminated services began with JAFI’s plan to end education grants for Olim earlier this year. This is said to be the final academic year for Olim to receive either full or partial subsidy towards their education in Israel. It was not a major headline story and was disturbing news to friends of mine, who had already made Aliyah, served in the Army, and now are working to save up to be able to go to Graduate School here. For them, and the thousands of Olim who planned on continuing their education in Israel, their future plans are dissolving. Thousands of immigrants might also be forced to drop out of school if the cuts go forward.

The news about the defunding of absorption programs, as readers of my Facebook page may know already, came from the Absorption Ministry, which over the past month has led a crusade against the Jewish Agency’s two-year-old request to transfer our very small part in some government absorption programs fully to the government.

Our withdrawal of 8% of the funding of ulpanim, the ministry told reporters, would lead to their collapse and the end of Hebrew instruction for immigrants. Our withdrawal of 1/6th of the funding of the Student Authority, the ministry hinted to reporters, would force thousands of immigrant students to drop out of college.

None of this is true. The Absorption Ministry, at the highest levels, has adopted a strategy intended to convince the Treasury to increase its budget by creating a wave of panic among olim. This is an irresponsible strategy, particularly when Absorption Minister Sofa Landver has claimed time and again that a generous absorption basket is critical for increasing aliyah. If that is the case, wouldn’t an artificial firestorm of false news about the implosion of the absorption basket count as directly harming aliyah?

Instead of just claiming that the absorption services won’t be hurt, I will let the government do it for me. In testimony before the Knesset Education Committee last week, officials from the ministries of education and absorption said outright that no ulpan programs will be hurt by the Agency’s withdrawal from these services. They can spin in the press all they want, but they can’t lie to the Knesset.

Here is the Absorption Ministry’s statement to the committee, which comes from the professional level, not the political leadership that published the harmful rumors in the press:

Hanoch Tzamir, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption notified that he hopes the subject will be solved in a meeting with the [Treasury’s] Budget Division. ”At the end of the day,” said Tzamir, ”the Ulpans will continue to run and immigrants will not be hurt by the issue.

The Education Ministry confirmed this assessment, and provided some numbers:

Riva Aviad, Director of the Division of Adult Education in the Ministry of Education: ”Today there are three partners in the running of the Ulpans—the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Absorption and the Ministry of Education. The Agency finances the overhead of the running cost, a sum of 5,000 NIS per student [or roughly 4.5 million shekels]. The Ministry of Education is responsible for hiring teachers in the Ulpans, the budget for which is nearly 59 million shekel. The Ministry of Absorption funds 20% of this budget (which amounted to 12 million NIS in 2011). Today there will be a discussion in the presence of Treasury representatives in an attempt to solve this matter. In any case, no Ulpan will close due to not receiving 5,000nis per student; we are talking about 4.5 million NIS in total.” Aviad added that according to the 2012 forecast, 9,000 students are expected to study in the Ulpans.

It’s the same story with the Student Authority, but no Knesset committee has yet forced the truth out of the Absorption Ministry.

If only the political leadership was as clear and conscientious as the professional staff, no oleh would be losing sleep today.

As a postscript, I should offer a sentence of explanation as to why we’re pulling out of these programs. We believe these are important programs that are vital to the successful absorption of olim. But we also believe, in principle, that basic governmental services should not be funded by overseas donors. Our budget does not come from the Israeli taxpayer but from donors, some in Israel, most from abroad. And we have a responsibility to be able to tell that donor that his or her dollars, euros or shekels are creating real change in Israel and in the Jewish world, not acting as a cash supplement to government programs. It’s time the government took full responsibility for the funding of its own absorption programs, freeing up more of our budget to do what we do best: bring more Jews to Israel.

About the Author
Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.