French MP in ultimatum to Israel: Accept our diplomas or I’ll oppose aliyah
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'You can’t bring people here who have studied for five or ten years and then have to work as waiters'

French MP in ultimatum to Israel: Accept our diplomas or I’ll oppose aliyah

Netanyahu confidant Meyer Habib gives Israel three months to drastically change its rules or he will tell French Jews to stay put

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

MP Meyer Habib speaks at the National Assembly in Paris, November 28, 2014 (screen capture)
MP Meyer Habib speaks at the National Assembly in Paris, November 28, 2014 (screen capture)

A Jewish lawmaker in France is warning that he will move to stymie French-Jewish immigration to Israel if the country does not act quickly to fully recognize French academic degrees.

Meyer Habib said he will call on French Jews to freeze their plans to immigrate to Israel if the state does not, in the next three months, enact reforms that would allow French doctors, dentists, nurses and lawyers to immediately start working in Israel without having to pass difficult tests.

Habib, a longtime friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, told The Times of Israel during an interview at the Knesset that he believes the prime minister is on his side, but that members of the professional elite in Israel places stumbling blocks in the way of reform, as they fear an influx of French professionals would lead to a decrease in wages for native Israelis.

“I am telling French Jews: Either Israel fully recognizes your degrees and lets you work after an internship of maybe two or three months, to learn the language, or you shouldn’t come. Because it’ll be a catastrophe,” he warned.

Although generally supportive of plans by community members to immigrate, Habib, a center-right politician with parliamentary responsibility for French people living in Israel, said the time has come to pressure Jerusalem over the issue, which he said has for years hamstrung efforts to bring more French Jews to Israel.

“There are many who want to come, but they would get lost. I tell them: Don’t come, you won’t find work. If Israel doesn’t recognize your diplomas, stay in France,” Meyer said.

Newly-arrived French Jewish immigrants are briefed upon their arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2015. (Zed Films)
Newly-arrived French Jewish immigrants are briefed upon their arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2015. (Zed Films)

“People come here with families and don’t manage to put food on the table. They spent all their savings; it’s psychologically exceedingly troubling and people are depressed because their social status is being broken. Morally this is unacceptable.”

Habib posed an ultimatum: “Today, I say clearly: If in the coming three months there is no tangible progress, I will tell the Jews of France: Don’t come to Israel until your degrees are recognized. You can’t bring people here who have studied for five or ten years and then have to work as waiters, have difficulty making ends meet or have to burn through their savings.”

As a French lawmaker, it is not his job to encourage immigration to Israel, Habib said. But he considers it his duty to protect some of the 150,000 French people living in Israel who want to work but can’t.

“Today I am convinced that we need to put on pressure. We waited for too long,” said Habib, who is in Israel this week for a conference of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians, which is under the auspices of the World Jewish Congress. “French immigrants are very engaged, very Zionist, very attached to Judaism. They love this country, Israel, and we can’t torture them endlessly. At a given point, decisions have to be made.”

In November 2014, the government approved the principle of “diploma recognition facilitation,” agreeing to make life easier for French academics who want to move to Israel. “But at the professional level, especially in the medical fields, many blockages are linked to protectionist attitudes of professional corporations,” Habib charged.

This week, Habib said, he was informed that doctors and dentists who have worked in their professions for 14 years would be allowed to practice immediately after immigrating. “A dentist with three years of experience who wants to make aliyah cannot work here? He’s been given impossibly difficult exams, which only about 5 to 10 percent pass? This is a shame.”

Immigrants from many Western countries have to pass difficult exams before they are allowed to practice medicine, dentistry or similar professions. Habib wants such exams to be abolished entirely.

“French degrees are among the best in the world. Doctors, dentists, nurses, lawyers, certified accountants. I realize that immigrants need a period of readjustment, to learn the language, perhaps to take an internship, but the quality of French diplomas cannot be questioned,” he said. “Either we recognize French degrees, or we don’t recognize them. As of today, Israel doesn’t recognize them. These exams are unfairly difficult. Can you imagine that in some cases university lecturers don’t pass them?”

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