Diaspora minister seeks plan to boost French immigration

‘200,000 French Jews want to come here,’ Naftali Bennett tells cabinet, insists ‘assimilation crisis, apathy among Jews’ causing Israel-Diaspora rift

French Jews arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, November 2, 2016. (JTA/IFCJ)
French Jews arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, November 2, 2016. (JTA/IFCJ)

Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett urged the creation of a “comprehensive” government plan to encourage French Jews to immigrate to Israel.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Bennett, who also serves as education minister, said that the failure by past governments to invest in French Jewish immigration was “a historic missed opportunity.”

“There are 200,000 French Jews who want to come here, and the state bureaucracies simply aren’t prepared for it,” he said, adding, “These are ethical people, Zionists, lovers of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, and it is our moral obligation to help them.”

Bennett’s comments came as part of a presentation of his ministry’s activities in the cabinet.

“Two weeks ago I launched an informal education program for French immigrants,” he informed fellow ministers, “but it’s not enough. We need a comprehensive plan led by the government.”

After his presentation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Bennett to team up with the Prime Minister’s Office National Economic Council to draft an umbrella framework for government-wide action focused on increasing aliyah, or Jewish immigration, from France, according to a Sunday statement from Bennett’s office.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at an education conference in Ramat Gan on November 15, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The program is to be presented to the Ministerial Committee for Absorption and Immigration, which is chaired by Netanyahu, who currently also serves as minister of absorption, and includes Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, NEC chair Avi Simhon and the prime minister’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz.

In his presentation, Bennett also took issue with the view that Israeli limits on religious pluralism or the conflict with the Palestinians were harming Israel-Diaspora ties.

“Israel-Diaspora relations are in an unprecedented crisis,” he told ministers. “We’re often told this is because of the Western Wall and because of the Palestinian issue and because of other ideological disagreements. That’s not true. There’s a dire assimilation crisis and growing apathy among Jews in the Diaspora toward their Judaism and toward Israel. That’s the whole story, and it has reached the scale of a national challenge.”

He then listed the ministry’s programs to address the growing rift, noting, according to his office, increased study about Diaspora communities in the education system and other efforts to raise awareness about Diaspora communities among Israelis, the government’s funding for Birthright Israel, and the “Mosaic United” program for strengthening Jewish identity on campuses, as well as government tracking of anti-Semitism worldwide and aid to affected Jewish communities.

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