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Israel Criticized for Moving Too Slowly on Immigrant Housing

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The Israeli government is moving too slowly to construct housing for the thousands of Soviet immigrants arriving in the country, an official of the Jewish Agency for Israel said here Wednesday.

Gad Ben-Ari, who is the spokesman for the non-governmental social service agency, said that although tens of thousands of new apartments will have to be built to house the immigrants, construction work has begun on only 9,000 units so far this year.

“That’s not good enough for us,” he told members of the American Jewish Press Association, which is holding its annual convention here.

Ben-Ari, whose agency works in partnership with the government to assist the absorption of new immigrants, said his agency has “been pushing the government” to speed the construction of housing.

But he said the political turmoil in Israel, where the government collapsed March 15, has stymied thoughtful planning on the absorption effort. Meanwhile, more than 38,000 immigrants have arrived from the Soviet Union this year.

Pointing out that a new government is expected to be presented to the Knesset next week, Ben-Ari said. “We are hopeful that the new government will have more time” to address absorption issues such as housing and the creation of jobs.

CONTINGENCY PLANS MADE

Ben-Ari also made clear that the Jewish Agency has developed a contingency plan in the event that Israel runs out of housing, as the Soviet immigrants continue to pour into the country at a current rate of roughly 10,000 a month.

The plan calls for mobilizing hotels, youth hostels, guest houses and even army camps, if necessary, to house the immigrants for a transitional period until permanent housing can be found.

An American Jewish leader who also addressed the Jewish journalists agreed that the Israeli government had been slow to address critical issues concerning the absorption of immigrants.

Ben Zion Leuchter, president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, said that public statements made by some Israeli leaders had been “insensitive” and could endanger the flow of immigrants to Israel.

“The performance of leading politicians has been less than statesmanlike, ” he said.

By contrast, the “people of Israel have been welcoming the Soviet olim in many tangible ways,” he said, adding, “There is a great spirit in the land,” referring to various volunteer efforts.

Leuchter addressed the press group primarily on the question of resettling Soviet Jews in the United States, an issue that is the main concern of HIAS.

Also addressing the press group were Marvin Lender, national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, and Martin Kraar, executive vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations.

Lender reported that UJA has now raised $265 million toward its $420 million goal for Operation Exodus, the massive special campaign to aid the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel.

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