TEL AVIV (Aug. 28)
Simmering tensions in absorption centers for new immigrants from the Soviet Union over lack of jobs and adequate housing exploded into the open this week. Large numbers of immigrants in several cities conducted strikes, took over the centers and evicted government officials and vowed to continue their action until the government, the Housing Ministry and the Jewish Agency meet their needs.
The explosion erupted following the suicide of a Soviet immigrant, Arkodi Seiderman, who had been a chemical engineer in the USSR. He jumped to his death from the sixth floor of the absorption center in Haifa after quarreling with on official over the issue of housing and work. This center house some 600 new immigrants from the Soviet Union, almost all of whom are academicians and almost all of whom have been there for two years and more.
According to Boris Litvinoff, a music professor, who was elected to a seven-member committee at the absorption center that was set up to handle the center’s affairs after officials were ousted, Seiderman sought unsuccessfully for two years to find a job suited to his background and experience. Seiderman’s suicide, Litvinoff said, was symptomatic of the desperation many new immigrants in the absorption centers feel after long and fruitless efforts to find work and decent housing.
“People lack work and even more so decent housing, ” Litvinoff said. “They were promised partial solutions, but even those won’t begin till 1981. Until then, the only hope of bringing public attention to their plight is to strike.”
ANGRY OVER THREAT
As the strike continued in Haifa, Raphael Kotlowitz, head of the absorption department of the Jewish Agency, went there to talk to the protesters about the condition that led to the strike. The residents refused to let him enter the center and angrily denounced the Absorption Ministry for issuing what they considered to be a threat against them. Apparently; Absorption Minister David Levy had stated that if the strike and lock-out of center officials continued all absorption centers where similar actions were taking place would be officially closed and new immigrants would be forced to undergo direct absorption without any transitional period in these centers.
Yosef Tekoah, chairman of the Russian Immigrants Association in Israel, who joined the strikers and took over the absorption ministry branch in Haifa, said that Levy was grossly mistaken if he thought he could frighten the immigrants by threatening to close down the absorption centers.
“These people didn’t fear Stalin, they didn’t fear Khrushchev, and they didn’t fear Brezhnev,” Tekoah said. “They certainly aren’t afraid of Levy.” He said there is an imperative need to introduce radical changes in the way immigrants are undergoing absorption.
DULZIN SEEKS MEETING WITH OLIM
As the strike continued during the week an effort was made by Leon Dulzin, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, to meet with the protesters. His effort failed, however, when the strikers refused to meet with him unless Tekoah was part of the delegation. Dulzin, who was about to leave on a trip to South Africa before the strike in Haifa and other centers began, can-celled his trip and came to Haifa.
Instead of finding a delegation representing the strikers at the Jewish Agency office, where he was scheduled to meet with Russian immigrants, he was met by two men who invited Dulzin and Kotlowitz, who accompanied him, to meet the delegation along with Tekoah at the absorption center. Dulzin refused, saying that he wanted to meet only with the new immigrants, trot with a representative of an immigrants’ group. The two men left and Dulzin waited for 90 minutes while representatives of the strikers discussed the situation. Dulzin was finally told that there would be no meeting unless Tekoah was present. Dulzin thereupon left Haifa but said he would return each day until a meeting with the immigrants themselves could be arranged.
MOVE BY JEWISH AGENCY
Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency has decided to stop financing the activities of the Russian Immigrants Association, noting that there were claims by some Russian immigrants who voted against Tekoah’s election last month that there are some financial irregularities in the Association. It was mode clear, however, that these irregularities took place before Tekoah was elected and that he was in no way involved.
Behind the scenes, however, there is some indication that a showdown is brewing between the Russian Immigrants Association, which is seen as Labor Party oriented in view of Tekoah’s Labor Party affiliation, and the Absorption Ministry, which is viewed as an instrument of Likud, in view of Levy’s affiliation with Likud. Four members of the Association have asked the Tel Aviv District Court to nullify. Tekoah’s election, claiming that immigrants who do not support Labor were not invited to the convention in Beersheba where Tekoah was elected.
STRIKES ARE SPREADING
Meanwhile, strikes have spread to Russian and Rumanian absorption centers in Tel Aviv, and Athlit and Kiryat Yam, both near Haifa. However, immigrants from Latin America said their absorption centers would not participate in the strikes and lockouts of officials. At the same time a division is appearing in the ranks of some of the Russian immigrants. Some of them, including former Prisoners of Conscience, are urging the strikers to stand fast on their demands while others are urging that the strikes be ended and that the strikers solve their problems without resorting to the strike tactic.
It was learned that some groups of Russian immigrants are organizing to emigrate from Israel as a group. Their objective is to accomplish this without publicity to avoid any pressure on them to remain by Jewish Agency and government officials. One former Prisoner of Conscience noted that this decision and the strikes were a long time in the making. “I warned that an explosion would take place if the immigrants did not get decent housing and jobs,” he said. “But nothing came of this warning. Maybe now someone will listen and take us seriously.”