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Israel Government’s Decision to Establish Absorption Ministry Creates Storm

June 11, 1968
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News that the Israeli Government had decided to establish a Ministry of Absorption and to assume responsibility for the absorption of immigrants, a responsibility previously held by the Jewish Agency, created a storm here today in the 27th World Zionist Congress. The decision was announced by the Government after Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. The announcement did not use the qualifying phrase “permanent absorption” as Zionist leaders had anticipated, thereby giving rise to the belief that the Government intended to take over the whole process starting with the arrival of the immigrant. A special meeting was held this morning to discuss the implications of the Government decision and the Jewish Agency’s attitude. Before the meeting began, A.L. Pincus, chairman of the Jewish Agency, received a telephone call from Prime Minister Levi Eshkol assuring him that the Cabinet decision had been “in principle” and that actual details would remain to be worked out by a joint Government-Jewish Agency committee. Mr. Pincus reported this statement to the special meeting this morning but it did not satisfy a number of those present. Several members of the Jewish Agency expressed themselves in strong terms against converting the agency into “a travel agency.”

Strong opposition was voiced at the meeting to a separation of the immigration function and primary absorption or the care of the immigrant immediately after his arrival in Israel. The meeting reportedly concluded that retention of the function of primary absorption by the Agency would be a precondition to discussions with the Government.

In his address to the plenary working session of the Congress today, Mr. Pincus stressed the need for the Jewish Agency to retain the primary absorption function. Discussing relations between the Government and the Agency, he described a covenant, which formally recognized the special status of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency in Israel, not as a formal document but as an expression of historic fact and of the true partnership between Israel and the Zionist movement. He told the session that in the one year of its functioning, the joint authority established by the Government and Agency had made significant progress in many directions. Among them he cited incentives for new immigrants, job placement and housing. He stressed the effectiveness of creating “one address” for immigration and absorption by unifying three Agency departments.

The Jewish Agency chief said there were three guiding principles the Agency and Zionist movement must follow: the Zionist movement must shoulder the burden of encouraging and organizing immigration; the Government must assume responsibility for the permanent settlement of immigrants, including employment, and finally, there must be no artificial barriers interposed between immigration and absorption.

Mr. Pincus said that the same body that dealt with the bringing of the immigrant to Israel must also see to his needs in the first stages of absorption – such as the immigrant centers and the Hebrew language courses (Ulpanim). The welfare of the immigrant, he said, required this.

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