Diaspora Share of Jewish Agency Plan to Absorb Soviets Will Be $500 Million

Jewish communities in the Diaspora will be asked to raise $500 million over the next five years to help finance Israel’s absorption of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union.

The sum would represent the Diaspora share of a $2 billion master plan to create the housing, jobs and infrastructure needed to absorb an estimated 100,000 Soviet Jews expected to immigrate to Israel in the next three years.

The plan was incorporated into a wide-ranging agreement reached by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel at a meeting of their joint Coordinating Committee here Monday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the World Income Committee of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors voted unanimously to endorse the $500 million campaign, which will come up for a full vote of the board on Thursday.

The Diaspora share will come from the proceeds of the United Jewish Appeal in the United States and the Keren Hayesod elsewhere in the world.

The $500 million will be raised over and above regular campaigning for domestic and overseas needs, and will not cut into the separate local campaigns for Project Renewal, the United Jewish Appeal-financed rehabilitation program for economically depressed localities in Israel.

The remaining $1.5 billion is to come from the Israeli Treasury. Finance Minister Shimon Peres has proposed raising $500 million of that amount through commercial loans, for which he requested U.S. government guarantees. President Bush reportedly promised to personally facilitate them, when he met Peres in New York in September.

A special State of Israel Bonds drive may be floated to provide an additional $100 million.

AGENCY’S INCOME IS SHRINKING

Howard Weisband, the Jewish Agency’s director general, said in an interview this week that the Board of Governors is taking a hard look at various agency outlays, in the hope of diverting funds from other programs to absorption. Among the programs targeted for possible cuts are the agency’s Settlement and Youth Aliyah departments.

Weisband noted that the agency’s income from UJA and Keren Hayesod campaigns had not been increasing in the recent past. The $360 million budget approved last February — excluding World Zionist Organization and Project Renewal needs — represented a decrease of $28 million, he said, from the previous year.

This underscores the major fund-raising effort that will be needed throughout the Jewish world to meet the absorption needs spelled out in the plan approved Monday by the Coordinating Committee, Weisband said.

In a simultaneous effort paralleling the absorption of Soviet Jews, the Jewish Agency intends to coordinate all Jewish cultural projects currently planned for Jews remaining inside the Soviet Union.

Both undertakings were carefully reviewed, approved and budgeted at sessions of the Board of Governors here this week, chaired by Mendel Kaplan.

Regarding the work to be done inside the Soviet Union, agency officials referred to a blueprint calling for 32 “multipurpose shlichim” to be sent from Israel.

They would establish themselves in Soviet cities and set up “Jewish community centers” to provide the various services that Soviet Jews need, from synagogues to non-religious cultural activities.

Weisband stressed that the agency is now firmly resolved to take the lead in world Jewish involvement in the Soviet Union. It would coordinate all or most of the work being done now by such organizations as the World Jewish Congress, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and certain private foundations.

‘JURY IS OUT’ ON SOVIET ALIYAH

Ultra-Orthodox groups are the only ones unlikely to agree to be coordinated by the Jewish Agency, said Weisband, who pointed out that “only the agency has the resources and the infrastructure to provide shlichim and teachers.”

He stressed that the overall purpose is to revive a long-dormant Jewish community, but one that would now be characterized by the strong centrality of Israel in all its Jewishly-connected activities.

Weisband admitted that the “jury is out” on the prospects of large-scale aliyah to Israel from the Soviet Union. What is clear is that the U.S. refugee quota for the 1990 fiscal year has already been exhausted by the number of applications filed.

Would-be emigrants, therefore, must decide now whether to go to Israel or wait another year or more before their applications to the United States come up for consideration and processing.

Looming large in such calculations will be the conditions of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union, the strength and likely longevity of the present Kremlin administration, and the quality of life in the USSR today and in the foreseeable future.

Another factor is burgeoning anti-Semitism, unleashed by the general liberalization toward political movements in many areas.

The agency’s cultural program, once it gets under way, would introduce a new dimension of Jewish knowledge and awareness into Soviet Jewish life and therefore into the decision-making of these potential emigrants, the agency director general maintained.

Finally, there is the establishment of “direct flights” from Moscow to Israel via Bucharest, Romania, or Budapest, Hungary. They would make the Israel option more attractive for those who chose it.

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