JERUSALEM (Jun. 24)
Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, known for his hawkish views on the administered territories, assured leaders of the Jewish Agency for Israel on Sunday that the government will not settle Soviet immigrants in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
Sharon said that housing for the new immigrants will be built in the Galilee, Negev and Wadi Ara areas, in addition to the center of the country. Wadi Ara is a heavily Arab area within Israel’s pre-1967 borders that links the coastal plain with the Jezreel Valley.
Sharon spoke at a session of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, which convened prior to the opening of the agency’s annual assembly.
Close to 400 delegates — representing Zionist organizations, Diaspora communities and fundraising bodies — are meeting here this week to discuss the challenges of the mass exodus from the Soviet Union and the needs of Jewish cultural life for those who remain.
The assembly also will take up a proposal to create a Jewish Education Authority to oversee Diaspora education programs now run by the World Zionist Organization.
A major controversy has emerged over whether this authority should contain a department that explicitly serves the Reform, Conservative and other non-Orthodox movements in the Diaspora.
The Reform and Conservative delegates are determined to include such a unit in the authority, but the Orthodox have threatened to reject the proposal if the label “religious” is attached to the non-Orthodox department.
ARABS SHOULD ‘WELCOME’ IMMIGRATION
Sharon was named by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to head a special ministerial committee on immigration and absorption. He said that he would include two Jewish Agency leaders on this panel. The agency is a non-governmental body that shares responsibility for absorption of new immigrants with various ministries.
Sharon said his ministry has started to refurbish 5,000 public housing apartments and has ordered 3,000 prefabricated homes, the first of 40,000 such structures that will be needed in the future.
At the gala opening of the assembly Sunday night, Simcha Dinitz, who chairs the Jewish Agency Executive, said that “1 million additional Jews will give Israel the sense of security and strength that it needs to negotiate magnanimously with the Arabs” on a peace agreement.
“If the Arabs indeed want peace, then they should welcome this immigration,” he said. “But if there are Arabs who want to throw Israel into the sea, then they should know that it will be harder to do this with 1 million additional citizens.”
The social tensions in Israel welling up lately over the privileges given to newcomers burst out at the opening of the assembly, as dozens of residents of deprived neighborhoods demonstrated outside the gathering. Dinitz’s speech was briefly interrupted by one of the protestors.
Among those attending the Jewish Agency Assembly for the first time is Mikhail Chlenov, head of the Va’ad, the federation of Jewish organizations in the Soviet Union. He was warmly welcomed by Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.
President Chaim Herzog, who also spoke to the delegates, said, “Let me assure you, because so many of you have been appealing to me, that, as I have done in the past, so I will continue to do everything I possibly can to support the move to change our system of government and our electoral system, which is totally inadequate for a modern society.”
Kaplan responded, “We are behind you in your efforts for electoral reform.”