The Jerusalem Post
May. 22, 2005 2:21 | Updated May. 22, 2005 3:35
Dutch MP praises immigration policies
By NATHAN BURSTEIN
Israel's immigrant absorption process could serve as a model for European countries struggling to integrate immigrants from the Muslim world, a member of the Dutch parliament said during a visit to Israel last week.
Dutch MP Tineke Huizinga of the Netherlands' Christian Union Party reported being impressed during her "special introduction" to Israel, saying that the country had an "enormous amount of experience and information" that could be of use in Holland's efforts to absorb Muslim immigrants.
Huizinga, a member of the Dutch parliament's foreign affairs and defense committees, said she also came to Israel to learn about the security fence and peace process, but she expressed particular interest in the country's well-established system for integrating new citizens.
Dutch society was challenged in the 1990s, she said, by a wave of immigration that brought nearly 900,000 Muslims, mostly from Morocco and other North African nations, to a country whose population now totals about 16 million. The traditionally Christian country became a key battleground in the European debate over Muslim immigration after last November's Islamist assassination of Theo van Gogh, a controversial Dutch filmmaker whose last project, Submission,s had enraged conservative Muslims with its harshly critical view of Islam's treatment of women. A wave of retaliatory arson and vandalism at mosques, churches and religious schools followed the killing, and tension remains high over the country's immigration policies.
"We have a problem of immigrants not integrating into our society," Huizinga said. "This is an issue of much interest across Europe."
The legislator, who also sits on the Dutch parliament's asylum and integration committee, acknowledged distinct differences between the challenges faced by Israel and the Netherlands in absorbing new immigrants.
"Immigrants coming to Israel are Jewish and want to make their lives in Israel," she said. "In the Netherlands they didn't always choose to live there, they ended up there."
She nevertheless found her trip to Israel instructive, she said, characterizing meetings with Immigrant Absorption Ministry officials as "very informative." She reported being particularly impressed with Israel's commitment to helping new citizens learn Hebrew – and with its willingness not to require them to. Language is a particularly sensitive subject in the Netherlands right now, where Huizinga said a new law will soon make learning Dutch obligatory, a policy that has alienated some sections of the immigrant population.
Language was among the topics the Dutch lawmaker discussed during a meeting with Marina Solodkin, deputy immigrant absorption minister. Solodkin told Huizinga that "every society initially must decide whether it's interested in immigration or not. Israel sees [immigration] as one of the bases of our survival and one of our main goals. In order to absorb immigrants properly, you have to invest on the governmental level."
Solodkin also discussed job placement and training programs, differentiating between the integration process for immigrants at absorption centers and for those who move directly into private housing. She also explained "aliya," the Hebrew term for immigration that literally means "going up" or "ascent." Huizinga later toured Jerusalem's Beit Canada absorption center, meeting with a family to learn about its immigration experience.
Accompanied during her visit by Christian Union Party official J.D. Voordewind, Huizinga's itinerary will also include a meeting with representatives of the OneFamily Fund, an organization providing assistance to families of terror victims, and tours of Yad Vashem and the security barrier.