JERUSALEM (Apr. 26)
A three-man commission appointed by the Zionist Organization of Canada began a public inquiry here today into the difficulties experienced by Canadian olim in Israel. The commission, the first of its kind ever established by a Jewish organization oversea, expects to hear more than 40 witnesses” all Canadian immigrants, who will describe their absorption problems, panel chairman Gerald N.F, Charness of Montreal, said at a press conference this morning.
He disclosed that Jewish Agency leaders were invited to send representatives “with special status” to sit in at the hearings but declined. He said that Uzi Narkiss, director general of the Agency’s aliya department, response to the invitation by saying that Jewish Agency participation in the hearings was an “unrealistic approach and is not possible.”
Narkiss said in his reply that he spoke for Yosef Almogi, acting chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, to whom the invitation was addressed. Almogi is abroad and Narkiss was unavailable for comment today. The Absorption Ministry announced, however, that it would send a representative to the hearings. Official observers have been designated by Jewish organizations throughout the free world.
In addition to Charness, a former Deputy Mayor of Montreal who served for 10 years as a member of the Montreal City Council, the commission members are Max Goody, a Toronto businessman who was chairman of the ZOC’s 41st annual convention held in Jerusalem last year; and Dr. Eli Adler, of Edmonton, Alberta, national vice-president of the ZOC. Gabriel Glazer, who immigrated from Canada 12 years ago, is serving as the commission’s legal advisor.
REASONS FOR HOLDING HEARINGS
Charness explained at the press conference that the ZOC decided to hold the hearings last year after “dozens of Canadians who came as olim to Israel, came to the (ZOC) convention and pleaded that we do something for them.” He said these olim felt that Canadian Jewry “threw them into the ocean” after they had emigrated and had nothing to do with them once they were in Israel.
Another reason for the hearings and one of the main subjects of its inquiry, Charness said, was a statistical report showing that 40 percent of canadian immigrants returned to Canada within five years of their arrival in Israel.
The aims of the inquiry are fact-finding and to find out “what we Canadians can do for our, olim here,” Charness said. He noted that the problem of olim who decide to return to Canada can no longer be handle individually. “It is time for the Israeli public to be aware of the magnitude of the problem,” Charness said.
He added that Israelis may not be aware of the particular needs of immigrants from North America. There is a feeling that Israelis “simply do not have the facts” upon which to base the programs for aliya from North America, he noted. Israel do not seem to understand why people from prosperous Western countries decide to come and live in Israel at this particular time, lowering their living standards and confronting numerous new problems, the commission chairman said.
QUOTES ALMOGI’S STATEMENT
Charness quoted recent public statements by Almogi to the effect that local Israeli communities should be far more involved and active on the subject of aliya. He claimed that Narkiss declined to send Jewish Agency representatives to the hearings because the panel was set up “without involving or consulting” the aliya department.
But, according to Charness. the ZOC had notified the Jewish Agency immediately after deciding to establish the commission. He said that he wrote to Almogi on April 14 that the ZOC was “well aware of your recent public statements” and “can not believe that you would choose to ignore the very first attempt, since your remarks by a diaspora community” that wants to investigate the problem.
Some Israeli reporters engaged in hostile questioning of Charness. One of them asked if it was not “chutzpah” for the ZOC. whose leaders did not immigrate to Israel, to hold hearings on absorption problems. Charness replied, “A movie critic is not necessarily a movie-maker.”