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Integration | Israel |

Israel Background Information Historical development Immigration policy Integration Citizenship Labour migration Irregular residence Current developments References


Jan Schneider

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In line with immigration law there are corresponding state measures to promote integration. Historically, the Jewish Agency has played an important role here too. Since its founding in 1968, however, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption has been responsible for state integration programmes.

Integration measures are limited to new Jewish immigrants and members of their family and are directed towards swift, profound and lasting integration. Common governmental parlance, therefore, adheres to the term "absorption". After decades of mass immigration from completely different countries and cultures, however, it is apparent that any "ascent" of the immigrants into the new Israeli society in terms of cultural integration as understood by the US American model of a melting pot can scarcely be regarded as a realistic concept. In practical parlance, therefore, "absorption" has meanwhile come to be understood to a large extent as synonymous with "integration".

New immigrants and their families are entitled to a large number of material integration services, and not for this reason alone can the integration of newly immigrated Jews be described as a continuing success story. The integration of immigrants from post-Soviet states since the early 1990s in particular has been effective from a structural perspective, due, among other things, to their high level of education (60 % have tertiary qualifications compared with 40 % of the resident population and almost 12 % are doctors or engineers) and their high labour force participation rate in their country of origin, although they were initially worse affected by unemployment. After ten years in Israel, however, employment rates have just about evened out. With regard to schooling, meanwhile, there is even talk of an "immigrant paradox". Despite starting from a weaker socio-economic position, young immigrants, on average, perform equally well in school or even better than children and young people born in the country. This, however, cannot disguise the fact that the integration of some immigrants from Russia has not succeeded. In addition to significantly higher levels of drug addiction and alcoholism, in recent times the detention of Russian-born members of radical right-wing and neo-Nazi groups has caused a considerable stir. In the area of cultural identification in particular, integration is often minimal. Here the plural and multicultural character of Israeli society is becoming obvious along with clear tendencies towards differentiation (see section "Pluralisation of Society").

Important integration assistance for new immigrants

Type of assistanceForm of assistance Period for which assistance guaranteed Period of eligibility to make a claim
Help with living expenses upon initial reception"Absorption basket" in eight instalmentsSix monthsOne year from date of aliyah
Assistance with acquiring household goodsCustoms grantOnce, in two instalmentsFour years from date of aliyah
Hebrew language courseAssumption of course costs (part of "absorption basket")6 months, one-off payment18 months from date of aliyah
Travel costs to participate in courseUp to 6 monthsOne year from date of aliyah
Assured basic incomeUp to 6 months after expiry of "absorption basket"One year from date of aliyah
Accommodation/ living expensesHousing benefit/ rental assistance5 years-
Accommodation in public housingOnce-
Mortgage loanOnceUp to ten years from date of aliyah
Employment Assured income or allowance for job seekersUp to 12 monthsOne year from date of aliyah
Assistance for degree courses, training and retrainingDuration of coursesTen years from date of aliyah
Student support Tuition grant, loanUp to three years of studyAt the responsible authorities' discretion

Source: MOIA (2007)

A special Israeli feature are the so-called absorption centres (merkazei klita) founded and administered by the Jewish Agency. These simple housing estates for new immigrants were built in the 1960s and offer a range of different support services. These include, for example, the offer of a Hebrew language and integration course (ulpan) right on-site, as well as a formalised network to provide advice on professional and psychological matters, schooling and more. Subsidised living in the absorption centres is, however, normally limited to six months. Whereas the Israeli state adopted a system of "direct absorption" with regard to mass immigration from the former Soviet Union, wherein the immigrants themselves had the financial means and freedoms to organise their primary integration, Ethiopian Jews were almost without exception housed institutionally after their arrival. At times up to 10,000 people were living in the absorption centres, some also for significantly longer than a year. Here they underwent a formalised and bureaucratic integration process. This was justified by the often low level of education and the "culture shock" of migrating from the rural, pre-modern society of Ethiopia to high-tech Israel which led to the conclusion that Ethiopian Jews were in need of special protection and assistance. Thus Ethiopian-born juveniles are given special support with their schooling and are entitled to university grants for a significantly longer period than other new immigrants.

The drawback of this special support with integration, however, is that the authorities treat the immigrants paternalistically. Moreover, unlike most immigrants, Ethiopian Jews were not unreservedly received into the state and religious system in accordance with the Law of Return. On the orders of the rabbinate, several thousand had to subject themselves to a certain ceremony, which some found humiliating, in order to substantiate their allegiance to Judaism, since some of their early forebears had been forced to become Christians. The religiously and bureaucratically controlled absorption process, as well as the sceptical behaviour of the population, which also includes racist stereotypes, have led to Ethiopians in particular becoming a marginalised immigrant group occasionally suffering discrimination.



  1. Cf. Haaretz, 11.9.2007; Spiegel Online, 9.9.2007

  2. Cf. Hertzog (1999).

  3. There are parallels to the integration of non-European-born Jews in the 1950s and 1960s, frequently referred to as "Orientals", who to this day continue to be disadvantaged as a social group in socio-economic terms; see also Semyonov and Lewin-Epstein (2004).

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