PHOENIX (Feb. 20)
Building homes for Soviet Jewish immigrants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip “can only increase tensions between Israelis and Palestinians living there,” members of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council warn in a controversial resolution narrowly adopted Monday.
Construction of housing for olim in the disputed territories could also damage fund-raising efforts in the United States for immigrant absorption, the resolution says.
The four-point resolution was adopted, after heated debate, by a vote of 216-207 at the annual plenary of NJCRAC, an umbrella group of Jewish national agencies and local community relations councils nationwide.
The measure’s adoption reflects a concern among many delegates here about whether the Israeli government has been sincere in its public declarations that it will not direct Soviet immigrants to the administered territories.
The first two parts of the resolution simply state that NJCRAC’s top priority at the moment is the resettlement of Soviet Jewry and that it approves past statements by the Israeli government that it will not “encourage” resettlement in the administered territories.
Controversy centered on the third and fourth parts of the resolution.
The third point expresses the concern that, as the housing situation continues to tighten in Israel, Soviet olim “will settle wherever jobs and affordable housing are made available to them; and therefore, the construction of new housing in the administered territories will have the direct effect of encouraging settlement there.”
A ‘MISCHIEVOUS’ RESOLUTION
Such construction “may detract from the aliyah potential and our fund raising,” the resolution states.
The fourth point declares that “the construction of new housing in the territories can only increase tensions between Israelis and Palestinians living there, possibly disrupting delicate negotiations.”
A move to delete the controversial third and fourth points ended in a tie vote of 199-199. According to NJCRAC rules, the tie resulted in the strong language remaining in the resolution.
One of the strongest supporters of the resolution was Theodore Mann of Philadelphia, past president of the American Jewish Congress.
He called it “an expression of great concern by the sense of the plenum that fund raising for Soviet aliyah may be jeopardized by the question of whether housing is going to be provided for olim in the West Bank.”
Referring to reports that the Soviets have decided not to allow direct flights to Israel, Mann said the issue “can’t be put to rest until the housing issue is put to rest.”
Mann, who is , said that the NJCRAC dele-
But Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called the measure “inappropriate” and “mischievous.”
The question of settling Soviet Jews in the territories “is not a relevant issue today,” Reich said. “When you talk about ‘construction of new housing in the administered territories’ and include that in a statement about Soviet immigration, it sends Arab countries the line that Israel is going to settle them in the territories. That’s what’s mischievous.”
He maintained that “there are no plans by the Israeli government to construct housing in the territories of any sizable nature.”
SHAMIR LETTER ‘UNRESPONSIVE’
It is believed that the measure was at least partially fueled by dissatisfaction with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s response to a letter sent by NJCRAC on Feb. 15.
The letter, sent by NJCRAC’s chairman, Arden Shenker of Portland, Ore., asked Shamir to reaffirm that “it remains the policy of the Israeli government to enable Soviet Jews, as all olim, to choose where they wish to reside.”
In his response, Shamir stated only that “we must devise ways to combat the coordinated Arab onslaught on Jewish immigration to Israel.” The letter did not address directly the issue of the administered territories.
Even Reich, who generally stands behind Shamir, was highly critical of the letter, calling it “insufficient” and “unresponsive.”
NJCRAC officials stressed that resolutions passed at the plenary do not automatically become official NJCRAC policy.
This resolution was officially a recommendation to NJCRAC’s Israel Task Force to consider the issue when it draws up language for the 1990-91 NJCRAC Joint Program Plan.
(Contributing to this report were JTA staff writer Allison Kaplan in New York and Washington Jewish Week staff writer Andrew Silow Carroll in Phoenix.)