Israel Said to Be Making Progress in Solving Immigrant Housing Crisis

Israel is “on the road” to solving its immigrant housing problem and has already made tremendous progress in the construction of new apartments, according to a top leader of Diaspora Jewry.

“The problem is well on the way to solution,” Mendel Kaplan said Monday during a trans-Atlantic telephone conference from Jerusalem.

Kaplan was elected Sunday to a second term as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. The Jewish Agency, which works with the government to help absorb immigrants, is holding its annual assembly this week in Jerusalem.

During the telephone hookup, Kaplan reeled off a list of places he had recently visited where housing construction was under way.

He said that 100,000 “housing solutions” would be completed this year and that between 80,000 and 100,000 new units would be needed each year for the next five years.

In some areas, he said, there is now actually concern about over-building. That is a dramatic reversal of the situation that existed as recently as six months ago, when construction on new units had barely begun and Israelis rendered homeless by wildly escalating rents started pitching tents in public squares all over Israel.

Kaplan said the big problem now is providing jobs for the thousands of immigrants pouring into the country each month, including Soviet Jews and the more than 14,000 Jews who arrived from Ethiopia in late May.

He estimated that 80,000 new jobs are needed for each batch of 200,000 immigrants that arrives annually. A total of 1 million Soviet Jews are expected in Israel by the end of 1993.

DEPARTMENTS TO BE MERGED

He asserted that Israel’s 10 percent unemployment rate is not “phenomenal,” pointing out that it had only been about one percentage point lower before the influx of Soviet Jews began at the end of 1989.

Kaplan called for more international investment, vocational training and privatization of Israeli industries to aid job creation.

“We must restructure” Israel’s economy–”that’s our challenge,” said Kaplan, who has sought to convince people that Israel’s socialist-based economy needs to be overhauled.

Israel can be transformed from a “place that’s a haven for Jews to a place that’s a magnet for all Jews, including those in America,” he said.

But for now, “we don’t have an overall plan in Israel and we don’t yet have sufficient investment by Israelis” and foreigners, he said.

Since coming into office, Kaplan, a wealthy South African businessman who represents the interests of Diaspora philanthropists, has received considerable praise for his willingness to streamline the Jewish Agency’s huge bureaucracy.

He announced Monday that two agency departments — one dealing with rural resettlement and the other with neighborhood development — would be merged into one new department by 1993.

“We felt that it was more strategically correct and effective to put them together. Of course, there was a lot of resistance,” he said.

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