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Jewish Agency to Hand Absorption Responsibility to Covernment

February 19, 1988
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The Jewish Agency directorate agreed Wednesday to a proposal to transfer all responsibility for immigrant absorption to the government. The transfer is expected to be completed within the next three months.

The transfer, welcomed by Absorption Minister Yaacov Tsur as a “historic decision,” was recommended last October by a committee set up by the Jewish Agency Board of Governors to propose ways to eliminate duplication between the agency’s work and that of various government ministries.

A highlight of the committee’s report was its criticism of the division of responsibility for absorption between the agency and the Absorption Ministry, a situation it said was both a wasteful use of resources and confusing to immigrants.

The duplication in absorption services has existed since 1952, when the Knesset passed the Law of Status, which determined the relationship of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization to the Israeli government.

According to the law, amended in 1975, the Jewish Agency has been responsible for an immigrant’s absorption needs, including housing and employment, for the first six months to a year, after which time the Ministry of Absorption takes over.

Critics of the division of responsibility include Simcha Dinitz, newly elected chairman of the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive, and Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.

During a satellite television conference with American Jewish leaders earlier this month, Kaplan said that the transfer of the funding and operation of immigrant absorption centers from the Jewish Agency to the government would save the agency an estimated $30 to $40 million.

And in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during his recent U.S. visit, Dinitz said he was in favor of the transfer.

“The bottom line is whether it will be easier for the immigrant to be absorbed,” he said. “We want to be sure that instead of reporting to two authorities the immigrant won’t also be reporting to no authorities.”

The transfer of responsibility will be overseen by a committee that includes Tsur, Dinitz, Kaplan and Finance Minister Moshe Nissim.

According to Kaplan, provisions will be made for the Jewish Agency to retain a monitoring function of absorption center facilities.

(New York correspondent Andrew Silow Carroll contributed to this report.)

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