JERUSALEM (May. 21)
Israel’s ministerial committee on the economy has approved a plan in which the government would assume most of the burden of providing jobs for immigrants.
This represents a sharp departure from the policy established last year to leave immigrant absorption to the free market and is an admission, in effect, that the policy failed.
According to preliminary estimates by the Treasury, the plan will cost over $2.16 billion. But it will not solve Israel’s overall problem of unemployment, which was rising even before most of the new immigrants entered the labor market.
There are presently an estimated 100,000 jobless in Israel, and the number increases as immigrants pouring into the country begin looking for work.
But the plan, which Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i will submit shortly to the full Cabinet, provides job opportunities for no more than 50,000 immigrants.
Some would be employed in large-scale, government-sponsored economic development projects, while others would be given jobs at some 30 to 40 large industrial plants, where the state would pay their wages.
At the same time, the government plans to enroll 20,000 to 36,000 new immigrants in vocational courses over the next six months to train them in the skills necessary to participate in the development projects.
“Despite the additional job solutions, we shall still face a high rate of unemployment in the next few years,” David Brodett, director of the Treasury’s budget office, told the Knesset Economic Committee on Monday.
The new economic measures coincide with Moda’i’s announcement last week that the govern- ment would abandon the laissez-faire policy of “direct absorption” in favor of direct government intervention in the immigrant absorption process.
The changes are an acknowledgement that the initial assumptions by Moda’i and Bank of Israel Governor Michael Bruno were flawed. They had assumed that massive aliyah would itself get the wheels of economic recovery turning with minimum government interference.
Now the worsening plight of new immigrants who are without jobs or adequate shelter has convinced the economic policy-makers that the state must act or the boon of aliyah could become a catastrophe.
Moda’i explained the changes in an interview Tuesday in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.
“One must understand what direct absorption means today,” he said. “The immigrants leave the airport, take a taxi to a place of their choice, wake up the local mayor in the middle of the night, and he provides them with temporary shelter at a local school.
“I am saying that whoever can manage on his own should continue with the direct absorption, but I assume we shall have to switch to planned absorption,” the finance minister said.
So far, seven public works projects employing immigrants have been approved. The largest project, expected to cost $281.5 million, will employ 2,600 persons to modernize and expand the national electric power system.
In addition, $21.5 million has been earmarked to employ 10,000 people in the building and construction industry.