WASHINGTON (Sep. 26)
Israel wants to see Soviet Jews continue to make aliyah in large numbers despite the economic difficulties the immigration is creating, Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i said Wednesday.
Moda’i, who visited Moscow two weeks ago, told a breakfast meeting of reporters here that he estimates there are some 3 million Jews in the Soviet Union.
“I would rather see them in Israel, even if all of them came before Yom Kippur,” Moda’i said.
He estimated the annual cost to Israel for the increased immigration at $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
On top of this, Israel faces unexpected costs related to the Persian Gulf crisis. It is spending an additional $250 million to cover the costs of the military alert necessitated by the threat of an Iraqi invasion. And $1.5 billion more than budgeted will be spent on energy costs because of sharp increases in the price of oil since the Gulf crisis began.
Moda’i said Israel adopted a new economic program to deal with these problems, and he has been outlining it to Bush administration officials and members of Congress.
The finance minister’s main reason for being in Washington this week was to attend the annual conference of the International Monetary Fund, where he has also been discussing Israel’s economic situation.
Moda’i said that when the West German finance minister complained about having to build 25,000 additional housing units, he replied that the much smaller Israel has to build 250,000.
He said Soviet immigration is increasing Israel’s population by 25 percent. To meet this expanding population, Israel has to create 540,000 jobs, one third more than it has now, he said.
But Moda’i said that in addition to needing jobs and housing, the new Soviet immigrants have to adjust psychologically to a free-market economy. “They don’t grasp fully the meaning of it,” he said.
Moda’i, who met with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev while in Moscow, said this is true also of the Soviet leader.
Israel’s economic plan, too, is aimed at removing obstacles to the “free flow of economic activity,” he said. This will make Israel attractive for investors from within Israel and outside.
The finance minister said that over the next several years, Israel will need some $8 billion from abroad, not all of it from the United States, to help meet the needs of the increased immigration.