No solution for tenants in hotel slated for US Jerusalem embassy

Diplomat Hotel Jerusalem Photo: Eyal Yitzhar

The US will not lease the Diplomat Hotel to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption after 2020, leaving 200 senior citizens without a home.

500 senior citizen immigrants entitled to housing from the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption living in Jerusalem's Diplomat Hotel recently learned that the owner of the hotel, the US government, does not intend to renew the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption's lease, which would enable them to continue living there. The tenants will therefore have to leave the building in 2020, when the current lease expires.

There has been growing concern among the tenants in the Diplomat Hotel about their fate after US President Donald Trump's announcement that the US would move its embassy to Jerusalem. Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofia Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) has met with the tenants, and promised them that a solution would be found for reach of them in Jerusalem. At the same time, they were given no details of what solution would be provided and how it would be carried out.

The Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs today discussed the fate of the senior citizen immigrants at the request of MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union), after their request to learn from the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption what solution would be provided for them was not answered.

"My efforts to understand how exactly 500 senior citizens will be transferred to alternative housing were unsuccessful, and I asked for a Knesset discussion in order to get answers for them. The senior citizens feel that they are not being informed, and they are always the last to know," Svetlova said.

In the discussion, presided over by committee chairperson MK Avraham Neguise (Likud), the parties involved, with an emphasis on the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, were asked to explain what solution they would provide to the entitled senior citizens, and how it would be implemented. No precise answers, however, were provided. Ministry of Immigration and Absorption director general Alex Kushnir made it clear that 18 months before the end of the lease, the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption would inform the tenants of the solutions found, but asked now to specify what negotiations the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption was conducting in order to avoid complicating those negotiations.

"The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption had enough time before the discussion, and nevertheless did not come prepared with a solution, and not even with answers," Svetlova said. "To my amazement, the director general made it clear that he did not have to give answers in this forum, merely saying, 'It will be all right.' If a statutory Knesset discussion is not the appropriate forum, in what forum is appropriate for the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption to inform the tenants? This is contempt for the Knesset and the function of its members to oversee the government's work, and also contempt for the hundreds of senior citizens who will be removed from the hotel. We are not demanding a description of the business agreements, but our duty is to demand adequate answers, so that we know whether the direction in which the ministry is acting is correct."

Svetlova, who herself resided in the Diplomat Hotel when she immigrated to Israel, added that the residents of the Diplomat Hotel were senior citizens in their 80s with an existential fear about their future, and did not know whether they would be sent to other cities when their entire lives were centered around Jerusalem.

Confirmation of this was provided by Jerusalem municipality social worker Rachel Postolovsky, who said, "The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption should work together with us. The tenants are elderly people given to fears and pressures. This process requires advance preparation, and I am anxious about their fate. We contacted the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption and got no answer. The Ministry of Immigration and Absorption should work together with us."

As for the ability of the rental market in Jerusalem to absorb 500 tenants, Svetlova added during the discussion, "The housing problem in the capital is well-known. You can't create hundreds of housing units for those senior citizens suitable for their needs out of thin air. Many enquiries received by my office show that their leases were previously renewed every four years, but now, when the deadline is approaching, they are being ignored. I addressed several inquiries to the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, and received evasive answers, and that is why I initiated this discussion."

Jerusalem Municipal Absorption head Pini Glinkewitz also made it clear in the discussion that "I don't buy what the director general is saying. We're two years late. We have to prepare at the municipal level to find a solution for every single family. There aren't enough solutions in Jerusalem, and no one from a professional group has visited the Diplomat Hotel. Two meetings initiated and scheduled by the municipality did not take place: one in August and the second a week ago. Both were postponed with the claim, 'It will be all right.' We know the city, and we can help."

At the end of the discussion, it was decided that the Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs would visit the site, and that another discussion would be held during the current Knesset session with an update about a housing solution for the entitled tenants.

"It is important for us to preserve the tenants' rights, and not to take the issue off the agenda, so that the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption will start preparing a solution now, not at the last minute," Neguise said. "I also think that there is no need to expose negotiations taking place in order not to disrupt them, for the benefit of the tenants."

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on December 25, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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Diplomat Hotel Jerusalem Photo: Eyal Yitzhar
Diplomat Hotel Jerusalem Photo: Eyal Yitzhar
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