Asaf Shimoni

The Start-Up Nation: How to attract more olim

Olim to the Start-Up Nation often have a surprise in store. After arriving in Israel they are confronted by an Indian-style bureaucratic nightmare known as Bituach Leumi. Those who work at this institution, which is accountable to no one, operate at whim and with impunity. They seem to fight tooth and nail against granting even minimum benefits to olim, returning residents, Holocaust survivors and the elderly.

Similar to many other bureaucratic agencies it is a fiefdom whose personnel often know little about its maze of rules and regulations. They often contradict one another and send their clients on a never-ending runaround. Many people must wait long periods of time without medications or medical care. Unknown bureaucrats decide when benefits are granted and to whom. Tens of thousands of new and returning olim have either left the country or are up in arms. Many Holocaust survivors and elderly live on a pittance.

Bituach Leumi is an impediment and is no longer needed

It is time that the healthcare rights of immigrants, returning residents, Holocaust survivors and the elderly be turned over to the Ministry of Health, where it belongs. The Minister of Health should decide who is eligible for healthcare and when. Not some ministry which lacks transparency and accountability. Bituach Leumi only serves as an impediment and is no longer needed.

Other social issues should be dealt with by a separate Ministry of Social Affairs.

Immigrant benefits should be decided by the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption. However this ministry and the Jewish Agency must also be made more transparent and accountable.

Change in the Law or Return

There should also be a change in the Law of Return. Many people from the former Soviet Union have abused the changes made in 1970, when the law was amended to admit anyone with one Jewish grandparent along with his or her extended family. Perhaps the Chief Rabbinate of Israel can become more lenient with marriage and conversions in exchange for a return to the original version of the Law of Return. At the same time, the rabbinical authorities can apply the same leniency for those who are not Jewish according to Halacha, but have Jewish grandparents, are assimilated in Israeli society and/or are socially Jewish.

Age discrimination should be outlawed

Public and private resources should benefit all immigrants, not only the young and wealthy. Age discrimination must be outlawed. Birthright Israel and other programs should benefit all age groups. Jews who have retired must also be brought to Israel, receive work and education and receive inducements to make aliyah.

Shimon Peres an example of how people beyond retirement age can benefit society

The gated communities and Jewish institutions in the United States and other countries offer a basic blueprint for future communities of ‘retired’ people in Israel. An extension of Birthright Israel can offer free trips to Israel for those who have retired. In many Jewish communities people above the retirement age continue to work or volunteer. In Israel, older and retired immigrants should have the opportunity to study and make further contributions to society. Their children and grandchildren would also have more reasons to visit and live in Israel. Shimon Peres was Israel’s best example of how people beyond retirement age can benefit society.[1]

About the Author
Asaf Shimoni is an author, journalist and translator who returned to Israel on October 1, 2023 after spending more rhan 40 years abroad, most of them in the Netherlands. He is currently milking cows on a kibbutz after living for five months in Haifa. He grew up near Boston, made aliyah while living on a kibbutz (from 1973 to 1976), and graduated from Syracuse University in 1978. He also lived some 5 years in Sicily. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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