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Jewish Agency Turning to Government to Close Funding Gap for Immigrants

Millions of dollars being raised around the world for the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel are likely to fall far short of meeting the needs of the thousands of immigrants pouring into the country, officials of the Jewish Agency for Israel now say.

Recognizing this, the Jewish Agency is asking the Israeli government to shoulder a larger share of the financial burden of the immigrants’ transportation and initial absorption costs.

Last November, the Jewish Agency asked Diaspora communities to mount a three-year campaign to raise $600 million for the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel.

That amount was based on the Jewish Agency’s projected budget for immigration and absorption, which in turn had been formulated on expectations of 70,000 Soviet Jews entering Israel this year.

But those estimates were made last November. Now, at least 150,000 immigrants are expected to arrive during the next fiscal year.

“All of the numbers are outdated,” Norman Lipoff, chairman of the United Israel Appeal and the Jewish Agency Budget and Finance Committee, admitted Monday as he presented the agency’s projected budget for the next two fiscal years.

The discrepancy leaves a minimum of 80,000 Soviet Jewish olim financially unaccounted for in the Jewish Agency’s budget next year.

$250 MILLION IN UNPLANNED COSTS

Resettlement of each Soviet immigrant costs $3,300. That leaves the agency with at least $250 million in unplanned costs this year alone.

Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that negotiations are now under way between the agency and the government to have the government bear a larger part of immigration costs.

Currently, the Jewish Agency is paying the full price of transporting Jews from the Soviet Union; supporting the operation of absorption centers; and paying 50 percent of the costs of direct absorption, a scenario in which new immigrants move directly into subsidized apartments, rather than absorption centers.

Kaplan said that asking the government for relief is part of a three-pronged strategy to cover the funding gap. The other two moves, he said, will be stepped-up fund raising around the world and trimming the Jewish Agency’s budget.

Neither will be easy.

In the United States, the United Jewish Appeal is reluctant to enlarge its $420 million Operation Exodus goal. After failing to reach its $75 million Passage to Freedom mark last year, UJA is hoping to retain an Operation Exodus target that will allow it to achieve success.

But the Jewish Agency has received “voluntary additional amounts” from other countries, said Kaplan. Canada has raised its Operation Exodus goal from $75 million to $100 million.

To aid the resettlement effort, the Jewish Agency committed itself to finding $200 million from other portions of its budget for absorption needs. But so far, it has only managed to cut $100 million from other areas.

Therefore, even before the larger emigration numbers were factored in, the agency was expected to rack up a deficit of $100 million by the 1991-1992 fiscal year.

Diaspora leaders who have been pushing for years to streamline the entire Jewish Agency-World Zionist Organization enterprise are using this financial crisis as ammunition to push their efforts forward.

A MOVE TO ELIMINATE WZO?

The agency’s Budget and Finance Committee resolved in February that, in view of the present fiscal situation, there should be immediate “unification of certain activities and other efficiencies within the administrative, personnel and finance units of both the WZO and the Jewish Agency.”

It also called for a “review of possible merger of departments or changes in their areas of activity.”

One initiative to help slim down the Jewish Agency is the creation of a Joint Authority for Jewish-Zionist Education. Its purpose will be to bring the Jewish education programs of the Jewish Agency and the WZO under one budgetary and administrative umbrella.

Negotiations between the two organizations have been delicate. Many in the American Jewish community have commented privately that the Joint Authority could be the first step toward eliminating the WZO as an autonomous organization, since the WZO derives most of its identity from its official role of coordinating worldwide Jewish education efforts.

But WZO leaders involved in crafting the plan insist that is not the case.

“I really think it’s supposed to unify, eliminate duplication of efforts, streamline all the efforts in education and the youth programs under the education umbrella,” said Bernice Tannenbaum, head of the WZO-America Section and a member of the WZO Executive. “It does not mean taking control of the WZO,” she stressed.

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