TEL AVIV (Feb. 10)
Immigration from the republics of the former Soviet Union, which last month reached its lowest level in two years, is continuing to plunge, and aliyah officials here disagree sharply about the causes.
Some blame deteriorating economic conditions in Israel. Others cite the expectation of improved conditions in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the other successor republics to the Soviet Union.
Still others point to a more generous U.S. refugee quota this year.
The reasons seem to vary with the officials’ political affiliations. But none can deny that a crisis is at hand.
Only 975 olim arrived in the first nine days of February, compared to about 2,000 during the same period last month. And January was the worst month for aliyah since the Soviet Union flung open its gates in the fall of 1989.
While 6,000 former Soviet Jews came to Israel last month, 4,300 went to the United States. The concern here is that if this trend continues, soon more Jews will be going to America each month than to Israel– a return to the situation that existed for most of the 1980s, when the Soviet authorities tightly rationed exit visas and the United States was willing to admit all Jews who got out as refugees.
Subsequently, a quota was imposed of 40,000 Jewish refugees a year. It was raised to 53,000 this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz and Uri Gordon, director of the agency’s Aliyah Department, both staunch Laborites, blame the decline on the Likud government’s failure to take measures to create jobs for the newcomers.
Government officials concede that unemployment may be a “minor” deterrent to aliyah. But they insist the main reason fewer Jews are coming from the former Soviet Union is the expectation of improved living conditions at home.
They point out that with the abandonment of communism, the republics allow citizens to own homes, while Western aid and investments are expected to improve overall economic conditions.