Photo courtesy of Mairav Zonszein
Early in the morning on July 7, an excited crowd of more than 100 gathered in Ben-Gurion International Airport to greet 232 new Jewish immigrants to Israel who arrived from North America on an El Al charter flight organized and funded by Nefesh B’Nefesh (which means “Soul in Soul” in Hebrew). The airport’s old and defunct Terminal 1 has been transformed into a celebratory arrival hall for new immigrants brought by the nonprofit organization, which was founded in 2001 with the aim of revitalizing immigration to Israel from North America and Britain.
Recently considered by the Jewish Agency to be serious competition when it comes to immigration, NBN is now recognized as the official operator of North American immigration to Israel. After some years of animosity and tension between the two groups, the Jewish Agency, along with the Israeli government, signed a contract with NBN last September that not only grants formal recognition to NBN but also guarantees that the government and the Jewish Agency will each fund a third of NBN’s $12 million annual budget. The remaining third comes from private donors. It is noteworthy, given the fact that Israeli taxpayer money goes toward this enterprise, that so few Israelis have heard of it.
NBN’s declared mission is to remove any obstacles that may stand in the way of those who wish to move to Israel. As such, it offers incentives, primarily cash. In addition to the “absorption basket”–a set of social and financial benefits provided by the government–new immigrants are flown over in an El Al plane, given their immigrant certification upon arrival and receive a lump sum of money. This money is stipulated as an advance, awarded only after the olim (immigrants) have lived at least three years in Israel. Amounts vary, depending on family size and financial situation. Although all immigrants sign a contract with NBN requiring that they “agree not to disclose the amount of the advance of funds to any person,” a single man who moved from the United States in 2006 was willing to divulge that he was granted $4,000 when he moved.
In the years since its first plane landed, NBN has brought 20,000 immigrants to Israel from North America and Britain. Of those 20,000, NBN PR and communications manager Renana Levine claims that fewer than 3 percent (600 people) have moved beyond the Green Line to settlements in the West Bank.
However, on this last flight alone, seven families were reportedly moving to Ma’ale Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank. Even if we take the modest amount of three members per family (despite the fact that it is surely more, as one family had five children), that is already twenty-one people on a plane of 232, making it nearly 10 percent of the flight. And this is only one settlement. A representative of the Efrat Council, a long and narrow settlement in Gush Etzion, said that he expected fifteen families to move there this summer. The 3 percent claim is thus highly suspect.