BERLIN (JTA) – Despite objections by two major German organizations, Israel will send two emissaries to Germany in an effort to beef up its outreach to 200,000 Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants there.
Representatives from Nativ, a government-run group, will head to Germany in September, the Israeli Cabinet decided Sunday. However, the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews, Stephan Kramer, told JTA on Tuesday that he was still waiting to be officially informed.
In recent talks with the Israeli government, the Central Council of Jews and the Central Welfare Council of Jews in Germany voiced opposition to a Nativ presence in Germany, fearing the organization might use its new foothold to build an alternative to Germany’s existing Jewish community. Nativ supporters reportedly have asserted that the Russian speakers are being neglected by the communal establishment.
A spokesperson for Nativ, which is under the jurisdiction of Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, said activities would be planned with existing organizations in Germany.
The Israeli Cabinet’s decision provides Nativ with four new staff members, including the two in Germany. The Cabinet allocated Nativ a budget of about $2 million, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post – far less than the $7 million originally reported.
The aim in Germany is to encourage a connection to Israel in the emigre population. An estimated 230,000 people in Germany, mostly Russian-speaking immigrants with some Jewish background, would meet eligibility requirements under Israel’s Law of Return. But less than half are eligible to join the German Jewish community, which follows strict Jewish religious requirements – a Jewish mother or an Orthodox conversion.
Germany’s Jewish population is officially about 120,000, with 75 percent from the former Soviet Union.
Lieberman’s director-general, Hagai Peleg, told JTA in a telephone interview that Nativ would work with the Jewish Agency and the local Jewish organizations to reach “those people who would be able to get permission” to immigrate to Israel.
“It will be a joint operation, with joint projects, under one central coordinating committee,” Peleg said, adding that he expected the first joint meetings to be held in the coming weeks.
Kramer said he was trying to keep an open mind about the group’s plans, but the fact that neither he nor the president of the Central Council, Charlotte Knobloch, were contacted about the latest decision did not bode well.
“So far I don’t even know officially about the Israeli Cabinet’s decision, which is very interesting,” Kramer said in a telephone interview. As “their future joint cooperative partner, do I have to call them to find out? It gives us a certain taste.”
Kramer and Central Welfare Council head Benni Bloch had written to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asking him to intervene on the Nativ debate, but Kramer said there was no formal response to the letter.
German Jewish leaders earlier this month had threatened to bring in the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other political allies to keep Nativ out of the country.
Peleg told JTA that Nativ’s main goal would be the same as that of other arms of the Israeli government: “To enhance the linkage between this community and the State of Israel.” The group’s activities in the former Soviet Union also will be increased, he said.
“I want to emphasize, nothing will be done without the Jewish Agency and without those other two local German organizations,” Peleg said. “They have the knowledge and they know better about these people, the environment, the culture and the law.”
Nativ will neither work “under anybody nor independently,” he said.
Meanwhile, JTA has learned that Lieberman and Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Harald Kindermann, will meet Thursday. The agenda could not be confirmed. A German government spokesperson in Berlin said Kramer and Kindermann have spoken informally.