Housing, Finance Ministers Collide over Priorities for Soviet Olim

Two tough-minded Likud ministers seemed to be on a collision course Sunday over what should take precedence in the absorption of immigrants arriving from the Soviet Union — housing or jobs.

Ariel Sharon, the minister of construction and housing, presented a $13.5 billion plan at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting to absorb about 1 million new immigrants over the next five years.

The money would go primarily for their housing needs.

But Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i announced he would oppose Sharon’s plan and submit his counterproposals at the next Cabinet session, which is scheduled for Thursday.

His plan will emphasize the need to allocate funds to create jobs for the newcomers, which he considers at least as important as housing.

Moda’i told a business group in Tel Aviv last Thursday that he would advise immigrants to seek adequate employment before they look for housing.

Sharon, on the other hand, demands a crash housing program utilizing all of the country’s resources.

His plans call for the purchase of 50,000 mobile homes to rent out, at an estimated cost of $1 billion; renovation of some 8,500 flats owned by the national housing company, Amidar; and the use of all available beds and housing at military bases, kibbutzim, hotels and hostels for the new arrivals.

In addition, Sharon would give financial incentives to apartment owners to rent out their premises, and tax exemptions to increase the number of apartments available for sale.

Sharon warned of social unrest if his plan is not implemented.

Deep resentment was expressed over the weekend by various immigrants’ associations reacting to Moda’i’s assertion Thursday that the ma’abarot, the unsightly tin-hut villages that housed immigrants in the early 1950s, were good enough for the present wave.

Meanwhile, new immigrants and the young Israelis homeless have formed a united front, headed by the charismatic Natan Sharansky, a leader of the Soviet emigre movement.

In response to absorption needs, the three major kibbutz movements announced over the weekend that they would open 100 ulpanim–Hebrew-language centers — to absorb up to 15,000 immigrants a year.

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