Labor and Welfare Minister Ora Namir has unleashed a fury here by suggesting Israel be more “selective” in the immigrants it absorbs from the former Soviet Union.
In an interview published Sunday in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Namir criticized the wave of immigration in the past 18 months for including a disproportionate number of old and handicapped people.
She said many of these individuals are sent by family members who do not want to take care of them and who take advantage of Israel’s generous social welfare policies.
Government and immigration officials condemned her remarks, saying her ideas ran counter to fundamental Zionist principles which call for Israel to be a home and haven for every Jew who wants to make aliyah.
But Namir said these dependents are a heavy burden on Israel’s social security system.
“I wouldn’t say a word if the family came together, but they send their (elderly relatives) to relieve themselves of their care, and they go to the United States,” she said.
In the interview, Namir appeared to be suggesting that Israel limit the number of dependents by a selection process. But when pressed, she stopped short of calling for a policy to bar the entry of those considered undesirable.
“I didn’t say to deny them entry,” she said. “I just said we have to check (the situation) more carefully.”
Her comments provoked a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who said he completely rejected Namir’s remarks.
Other leaders also lashed out at Namir.
Immigration advocate and former refusenik Natan Sharansky said he was “shocked” at Namir’s “call for the selection of immigrants. Only the government of the British Mandate would do this.”
Interviewed on the radio from outside the country, the acting chairman of the Jewish Agency, Yehiel Leket, called Namir’s remarks very serious. He said it is not feasible to scrutinize the “contribution each immigrant can make to the state,” and proposing to do so “alters the basic principles of the State of Israel.”
NAMIR HOLDS HER GROUND
The principle of Israel as a Jewish homeland “will rise or fall over the question” of whether to adopt Namir’s ideas or “to keep the gates of this country open to Jews wherever they are,” said Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban.
For her part, Namir held her ground under fire. “What I said is part of the public agenda,” she said in a radio interview. “It’s difficult and very severe, but I don’t regret anything.”
She said that Israel wants the elderly and infirm immigrants to come, “but with their whole families.”
Namir maintained there has been a big drop recently in the number of young, working people who have emigrated to Israel.
Among the immigrants who came to Israel in the last year and a half, about one-third are old, one-third are handicapped and one-third are single parents, she said.
Tsaban disputed her figures. He said the most surprising thing about immigration in the past few years is how consistent the demographic breakdown has been. Fifteen percent are elderly, 10 percent are single parents and “a lot less” are handicapped, he said.
“This inaccurate demography stigmatizes and distorts the picture of aliyah,” he said. In fact, he added, the new immigrants have contributed to Israeli science, the economy and society.
Last month, according to figures of the Absorption Ministry, 6,800 olim came to Israel. Of that total, 5,600 came from the former Soviet Union.
The year-to-date totals are down roughly 3 percent from the same period last year, with 56,800 immigrants, of whom 46,100 came from the former Soviet Union.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.