JERUSALEM (May. 14)
A serious discussion of how to reduce the number of drop-outs–Soviet Jews who opt to settle in countries other than Israel after leaving the USSR–is now taking place. “We will discuss the problem. thoroughly with Premier Menachem Begin in order to reach decisions. “before the annual assembly of the Jewish Agency convenes in Jerusalem next month, Raphael Kotlowitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s immigration and absorption department, said at a press conference today.
He said the leadership of American Jewry is fully aware of the problem and that he found, at a recent meeting with American Jewish leaders, that they were worried that if the number of Soviet Jews coming to the U.S. increases, they will have to allocate more money for their absorption. Currently there are some 45,000 Soviet Jews in the U.S. according to kotlowitz.
He claimed that most of them do not identify with the Jewish people and therefore did not go to Israel. But, he said, recently there has been a growing number of Soviet Jewish emigres who justify going to the U.S. on the basis of reuniting with their families there.
Kotlowitz said that in spite of the rising number of drop-outs–63 percent of those who left the Soviet Union so for this month–Soviet Jews are still the main source of immigrants for Israel. In the first four months of this year 6042 arrived out of an anticipated total immigration of 35-40,000 this year. He noted that in 1978 there was a 19 percent increase in immigration and in the first four months of this year immigration ran 65 percent higher than the same period last year.
But Kotlowitz warned that if the drop-out situation did not change drastically, immigration to Israel would suffer because most Soviet Jews would be going to the U.S. He said “I have no moral qualms about this issue. Those who use visas issued for Israel” to leave the USSR “should use them to go to Israel. Otherwise, let them use different visas.”
Kotlowitz said the shortage of housing is still the main problem in the absorption of immigrants. Currently there is need for some 8000 to 10,000 flats. The only available flats are in development towns, but many immigrants refuse to go there, he said.
Referring to Iranian Jewry, Kotlowitz said that in the last seven months some 24,000 Jews left Iran. Ten thousand of them are currently in Israel, either as tourists or as immigrants. “So far, Jews can still leave Iran, unless they are on the black list of the authorities.”