VIDEO - Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski said during a special Sukkkot interview with Ynetnews that he did not believe the recent war in Lebanon or the looming Iranian threat would deter Diaspora Jews from immigrating to Israel.
Bielski said that during the war itself some 600 olim (new immigrants) made aliyah from France, and a similar number of Jews immigrated to the country from the United States, England and Canada.
“Not one of them canceled,” he said.
“I said to myself, ‘They are coming to live in a place where rockets are falling on people’s heads.’”
However, the JA chairman added that the prospects for increased aliyah in the aftermath of the war in Lebanon depended largely on the general atmosphere in Israel.
“If people will understand that we’re going toward peace and more security for the State of Israel, then I think we’ll have more olim,” Bielski said.
“But if the circumstances won’t instill this feeling among people, some may prefer to wait and see what happens,” he added.
Bielski said he did not believe the Iranian nuclear crisis would have an effect on aliyah, “unless there is a major change in the situation.”
“I think the danger posed by Iran to Europe and even America is much higher than the danger it poses to Israel,” he stated.
With regards to the support offered throughout the war by Jewish communities abroad, Bielski mentioned the Jewish Agency’s efforts to transfer children residing in the north to central and southern Israeli cities, at a safe distance from the incessant Hizbullah Katyusha attacks.
“I phoned Howard Rieger, president of the United Jewish Communities (UJC) in America, and asked for a million dollars to move the children; he got back to me after two hours and said the money was on the way,” Bielski recounted.
“Eventually we moved some 40,000 northern children with the help of millions of dollars that were raised during the war. This is really something to be proud of – how the Jewish communities abroad stepped up and helped Israel.”
'These acts would never occur in Israel'
Bielski said that in the framework of the Jewish Agency’s “Day After” project, aimed at assisting in the rehabilitation of the north, the organization is offering scholarships to students enrolling in northern colleges or universities; the agency is also compensating reserve soldiers who were called up during the war and suffered financially as a result, he said, adding that the Agency has also contributed large sums of money to small businesses in the north.
“We believe that Israel can come out even stronger from this crisis,” Bielski said.
Turning his attention to the apparent rise in anti-Semitism, the JA chairman said recent anti-Jewish acts in Russia, Oslo, the US and other countries may be a repercussion of the Lebanon war or the growing Muslim communities all over the world.
“Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is deeply rooted,” Bielski said. “We can’t ignore it; we have to fight it and make our voice heard; the solution for this is aliyah – these acts would never occur in Israel.”
According to the Jewish Agency chairman, his organization is focusing on education as a tool to fight the phenomenon.
“Many people are totally ignorant when it comes to Israel. Some of them listen to Iranian President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, who says the Holocaust never happened; when people here this once, twice or maybe three times, they begin to wonder whether there is any truth to what he says,” Bielski stated.
“So we are trying to reach out to people through the schools and tell them what Israel is all about, what it means to the Jewish people,” he added.
'Walk the streets of Jerusalem'
Bielski did not shy away from touching on the difficulties facing new immigrants upon their arrival in Israel.
“It’s hard for someone to move from his birthplace to a country with a different language and mentality,” he said. “We love the olim hadashim (new immigrants), but the aliyah process is not simple; we try to make it easy on them, but it’s still a major decision, and we tell those considering such a move that we cannot promise them a rose garden.”
“There is some bureaucracy in Israel; sometimes it’s not pleasant and you have to fight for your survival here –but it’s worth it, because this is the only place in which Jews can live in their own state; Israel is the only place where Jewish people control their own destiny” he added.
Bielski said that a large percentage of Jews in North America have never visited Israel and probably never will.
“I cannot accept this; if you are a Jew, regardless of where you live, come and visit us –walk the streets of Jerusalem, see what happened to those who survived the Holocaust and built this fantastic state,” he pleaded.