In Israel, plans to close immigrant center stir integration concerns

What began as a neighborhood campaign against the planned closure of an immigrant absorption center in the town of Mevaseret Zion is now focusing a spotlight on the troubled integration of Ethiopian immigrants and the long-term fate of donations to Jewish causes in Israel.

Newcomers from Western nations often find housing after a short stay in one of 16 centers run by Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry. But others, mostly immigrants from Ethiopia with higher economic and social barriers to overcome, do not have the means to move out even after three years of government entitlements have run out.

The Mevaseret Zion Absorption Center is home to 400 families, many of whom cannot afford to leave, who were brought to Israel over the last decade by the Jewish Agency of Israel. On the front lawn is a blue mosaic honoring U.S. donors Edward and Mabel Byer, who, according to a 1989 book called “Pioneer Jewish Texans,” provided the largest single gift to date to the United Jewish Appeal.

The Jewish Agency used such donations decades ago to obtain the land for the center.

But now the center’s future and that of its residents lie in doubt. The 200-acre property, west of Jerusalem, is being offered to private developers at an opening bid price of $67 million for construction of a housing development with units that most immigrants could not afford.

The housing would also be too expensive for many young locals, who have reacted by launching a campaign for fair, affordable housing. A solidarity tent has been set up nearby, protesting the planned development.

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In Israel, plans to close immigrant center stir integration concerns
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