JERUSALEM (Jul. 1)
Leaders of the major fund-raising organizations of world Jewry have agreed to accelerate their campaign to help Israel meet the costs of absorbing the rapidly rising tide of immigrants from the Soviet Union.
Diaspora leaders who gathered here last week for the Jewish Agency Assembly laid the groundwork for a $1 billion campaign over three years for the absorption of close to half a million Soviet Jews in Israel.
Their decision came in response to urgent appeals for more cash from the Jewish Agency, which works in partnership with the Israeli government to transport the immigrants and absorb them in Israeli society.
Last fall, the Jewish Agency asked Diaspora fund-raising bodies to raise $600 million over three years for immigrant absorption. The United Jewish Appeal agreed to raise $420 million in the United States and Keren Hayesod agreed to raise $180 million from other countries, in what became known as Operation Exodus.
The campaign, which was begun early this year, set out to raise the full amount in just one year, but donors would have three years to pay out their pledged contributions.
Last week, leaders of UJA and Keren Hayesod agreed to urge their donors to pay off their Operation Exodus pledges over two years, thereby making $300 million a year available to the Jewish Agency, rather than $200 million.
The plan is then to begin a new special drive once the current one is completed.
ALREADY TALK OF EXODUS II
“We are now in the midst of what we call Operation Exodus I. People will yet be called on for increased giving in Exodus II,” said Phil Granovsky, a United Israel Appeal leader from Canada who chairs Keren Hayesod.
“When we get home,” he said, “we have to set the mood for the next stage of the campaign. It is urgent to prepare people for this.”
Granovsky, who chairs the World Income Committee of the Jewish Agency, spoke at the closing session of the agency Board of Governors meeting here. He said the Jewish Agency would need $1 billion over the next three years.
Agency and government leaders last week agreed on a $2.3 billion plan for the aliyah and absorption of 150,000 Soviet Jews in Israel this year. It is estimated that similar numbers of Soviet Jews will be coming to Israel each year over the next three years.
The agency pays transportation and shipping costs for the immigrants, part of an absorption grant they receive during their first year in Israel, and certain social services for newcomers.
Israeli taxpayers will be expected to pay most of the costs of long-term absorption, which means primarily job creation and housing. The Israeli government must also build new schools and expand the infrastructure to cope with the added population.
The chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, Mendel Kaplan, said Friday that because of the upsurge in immigration, the agency had doubled its budget this year from $360 million to $740 million, “with most of it going for aliyah and absorption.”
He lauded Diaspora leaders for contributing generously to help the Jewish Agency meet the ensuing cash shortfall.
Noting that UIA-Canada had agreed to borrow $30 million to help fill the gap, Kaplan said, “Both individuals and communities are borrowing funds to pay campaign pledges. They are extending themselves in peacetime, which is unheard of.”
GOVERNMENT TO PAY LARGER SHARE
Agency leaders admitted, however, that even if cash receipts from Operation Exodus rise this year from $200 million, as originally planned, to $300 million, the agency will still not be able to pay its previous share of absorption costs.
Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, said the agency has asked the government to pick up a larger share of the initial absorption grant provided to the immigrants.
Until now, the agency and the government have split the cost evenly. The agency now wants to reduce its share to 25 percent, with the government picking up the rest.
Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai last week urged delegates at the Jewish Agency Assembly to reduce services in their own communities, borrow funds and make cuts in other areas of agency activity, so that more Diaspora funds would be available for aliyah and absorption.
But Kaplan said that the willingness of Diaspora leaders to launch a new phase of the Operation Exodus campaign would depend in part on progress made in Israel by October, when the Jewish Agency Board of Governors next convenes.
“The credibility of the government is linked to what happens on the ground,” Kaplan said. “If there is no housing or job creation, our task will be more difficult.”
Many attending the assembly were dismayed to learn that most of the declarations made over the past six months by former Housing Minister David Levy about housing starts for new immigrants were groundless.
Relatively little new construction had actually started because of feuding between Levy and former Finance Minister Shimon Peres, and because contractors had stalled, in an attempt to extract more incentives from the government.
The assembly delegates applauded a plan by the new housing minister, Ariel Sharon, to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles and import 3,000 prefabricated houses now to meet immediate needs.