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Jewish Agency Takes Flak for Plan to Settle Soviets on Negev Farms

A Jewish Agency plan to settle Soviet olim in farm communities deep in the Negev has run into heavy flak from the Soviet Jewish Forum, an immigrants advocacy group headed by Natan Sharansky.

Absolutely “irrelevant” to the professional needs of Soviet olim, a Forum spokesman declared in reaction to the Agency’s announcement that it will build four rural settlements in the Negev, primarily for Soviet immigrants.

“Soviet newcomers will go wherever jobs are available, but few are interested in becoming farmers and how many can be employed growing tomatoes?” the spokesman asked.

“Instead of creating struggling communities, Israel should be building factories, hi-tech industries and scientific think tanks to harness unique Soviet professional skills and brainpower for the country’s economic growth,” he declared.

Since 1990, 20,000 Soviet and 4,000 Ethiopian immigrants have been housed in rural settlements around the country, about 6,000 of them in the Negev.

But Soviet and Ethiopian olim are being kept well separated, apparently because of the social friction and racial clashes that developed between the two groups when they were housed at common absorption centers.

Ethiopian olim, who have been dispersed to communities around the country, have not been earmarked for the planned Negev settlements.

Two are in the southern Arava region, one in the central Negev highlands and the fourth near Moshav Yated, close to the Egyptian border.

Each community is intended to house 250 families. According to the Jewish Agency’s plans, the nucleus will consist of 60 Soviet families, less than four months in the country, who are living in temporary mobile homes near Moshav Yated, where they work part time while studying Hebrew.

Building plans are currently awaiting Housing Ministry and Cabinet approval. Land preparation is expected to start within a year at the earliest, according to Mordechai Konstrinaski, director general of the Rural Settlements Department.

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