WASHINGTON (Oct. 2)
Israel cannot solve its 400 percent annual inflation problem by allowing unemployment to develop, as other countries have done, it was stressed here today by Tourism Minister Avraham Sharir and Likud MK Ehud Olmert.
Speaking to some 100 Jewish leaders, participating in the United Jewish Appeal’s third annual Hineni national leadership meeting, both said that large-scale unemployment would mean that many young Israelis would emigrate. Sharir added they would also make more difficult the task of absorbing new immigrants.
“Many times when I come to this country and I see so many Israelis who are living here, my heart breaks,” Sharir told the UJA group in a briefing at the Israel Embassy. “We cannot afford to lose Israelis. We are going to be safe and sound in our country when we are going to have a population of five to six million Jews like in ancient times.”
Sharir added that the Arabs will then “have to give up their dream to throw us into the sea because you can’t destroy a country of five to six million Jews.”
EFFECT OF BUDGET CUTS
Olmert noted that the decision of the new unity coalition government, led by Premier Shimon Peres, to cut $1 billion from its budget means it has to come either from defense, which Sharir said is already near the “red line” where it cannot be reduced further without endangering security, or from such items as welfare or social services.
But Olmert stressed that Israel, in solving its economic problems, cannot “create other social problems that will have consequences that are as dangerous to the Israeli society as the economic difficulties.” “We know all the solutions, we know all the theories,” Olmert said but, he added, the problem is to put them into effect “without creating other social problems.”
Sharir suggested one solution was increasing exports and urged the Jewish leaders to help in this area. Turning to his own field of concern, Sharir said that tourism, which earned Israel $1 billion this year, could easily be doubled.
OPTIMISM ABOUT THE UNITY GOVERNMENT
The two Israelis, both members of Likud, stressed that the new coalition government of Labor and Likud was the only way in which the economic problem could be dealt with. Olmert said that a “narrow government” led either by Labor or Likud, would have been too weak and too dependent on the many small parties to act.
He said Labor and Likud were “not ignoring the differences,” but putting them aside for two to four years until the new government deals with the country’s major problems. Olmert predicted that once these problems were met, Labor and Likud would go back to arguing their ideologies.
“In times of crisis, the State of Israel and the political system of Israel, which unfortunately I think does not enjoy the best reputation, both inside and outside, still proves it can overcome minor differences and even major differences in order to do what is essential for the national interest,” Olmert stressed. Sharir was even more optimistic about the coalition, predicting it would last a full four years and would maybe be a “sign for the future.” He said there had been a “gulf widening” between Israelis with increased fanaticism and with extremists on both sides gaining more power.
Sharir said the new unity government may now be an example not only for Israelis but for Jews in the diaspora, too. “We are too small to be divided,” he said.