Israeli minister wants West Bank settlement for French Jews

Uri Ariel’s housing plan for French immigrants draws criticism from opponents

Israeli settlement Givat Ze’ev in the West Bank. Israel’s minister of housing Uri Ariel wants to expand existing settlements to cater for an expected ‘influx’ of Jewish immigrants from France. File photograph: Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters

Israeli settlement Givat Ze’ev in the West Bank. Israel’s minister of housing Uri Ariel wants to expand existing settlements to cater for an expected ‘influx’ of Jewish immigrants from France. File photograph: Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters

 

Israel’s minister of housing Uri Ariel wants new Jewish immigrants from France, who are expected to arrive in Israel in record numbers this year, to live in West Bank settlements.

Mr Ariel, a member of the far-right Jewish Home party, sent a letter to the Yesha Council, the umbrella organisation for West Bank settler communities, instructing them to prepare for the expected influx.

“French Jews immigrating to Israel undoubtedly sympathise with the Zionist settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria [the biblical term for the West Bank]. Surely, they would want to settle in one of Judea and Samaria’s communities.”

Mr Ariel told ministry of housing staff and officials with the Israel Land Administration to enlarge settlements in order to prepare for the arrival of new immigrants from France. He asked the Yesha Council to immediately identify settlements that could be expanded.

Despite Mr Ariel’s instructions, however, only 1.6 per cent of French Jews who arrived in Israel in recent years chose to live in West Bank settlements.

The move came as Natan Sharansky, the head of the Jewish Agency, the body responsible for the immigration and absorption of diaspora Jews, predicted that a record 15,000 French Jews could migrate to Israel this year.

Mr Sharansky made this assertion following last Friday’s deadly attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris , which left four Jewish citizens dead.

Initiative criticised

Labour leader Yitzhak Herzog and Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni, running in the March election on a joint ticket, both criticised Mr Ariel’s initiative.

“This is not ideology, but rather an attempt to take advantage of the precarious situation French Jews have found themselves in. Not only will this cynical move undermine Israel’s international standing and isolate it further, it will be detrimental to our relationship with the diaspora.”

Knesset member Zehava Galon, head of the left-wing Meretz party, appealed to attorney general Yehuda Weinstein and the central election committee to order the ministry of housing to suspend the initiative.

“Ariel is cynically taking advantage of the tragedy that has occurred in France to expand settlement construction,” Ms Galon said. “These are not people who have expressed any interest in settling in the territories. This is election bribery.”

Mr Ariel responded: “Unlike [Ms Galon] and her associates, French Jews see settling the land of Israel as a matter of national importance.”

He stressed that his ministry wanted to settle the newcomers throughout the country and not just in the West Bank.

Officials from the ministry for absorption also criticised the move, saying the minister should stick to the affairs of his own ministry and not interfere with the absorption of new immigrants.

‘No future’ in France

Almost 7,000 French Jews arrived in Israel last year, more than twice the 3,300 who arrived in 2013, with many saying they had experienced anti-Semitism and saw no future for their children in France.

The numbers are still only a small percentage of the half a million Jews in France, but Jewish Agency officials report increasing numbers enquiring about moving to Israel, a trend that began before the latest attack. Mr Sharansky said he saw the potential for more than 100,000 Jews to move to Israel from France in the next two decades.

Israeli leaders are encouraging French Jews to immigrate to Israel. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French Jews after the Paris shootings that “the state of Israel is your home”.

The Israeli government has taken steps to encourage French immigration, boosting the number of Israeli emissaries operating in France and stepping up public relations campaigns targeting French Jews.