JERUSALEM (Jun. 26)
A multibillion-dollar plan for the absorption of 450,000 Soviet immigrants over the next three years was approved Tuesday by officials of the Israeli government and leaders of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The plan, hammered out during a meeting of the government-Jewish Agency Coordinating Committee, anticipates 150,000 Soviet immigrants arriving each year for the next three years, at a cost of $2.3 billion annually.
The blueprint calls for construction of 45,000 apartments each year, in addition to 6,000 already under construction, and the renovation of 4,000 public housing apartments.
Some $400 million of the overall sum represents direct government outlays for housing construction, while another $1 billion has been set aside to guarantee purchase of these apartments from private contractors if buyers cannot be found.
Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, who heads a ministerial committee on absorption, said at the meeting that starting in December, Israel will need 7,000 apartments each month to meet the demands of both newcomers and veterans.
He said his ministry will purchase 40,000 prefabricated houses in Israel and abroad, 3,000 of which are already on order.
About $30 million will be spent on job retraining and job creation, and $85 million will go to infrastructure, including roads, sewage and communications.
The cost of bringing the 150,000 immigrants and their freight to Israel will be $150 million, to be paid entirely by the Jewish Agency, which operates on funds raised in the United States by the United Jewish Appeal and elsewhere by Keren Hayesod.
An additional $500 million will be set aside for initial absorption grants. Until now, the Jewish Agency has paid half of these grants, but its share may be reduced if additional funds cannot be raised abroad or produced by cuts in other agency activities.
DIASPORA URGED TO RAISE MORE
The plan approved by the Coordinating Committee on Tuesday points out that the $600 million now being raised by UJA and Keren Hayesod in their Operation Exodus campaign was based on the assumption that 80,000 Soviet Jews would be arriving in Israel per year.
“In view of the welcome growth in the number of olim, the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency request that the fund-raising organizations amend the amounts that they are committed to raise, according to the estimates of aliyah,” the plan states.
UJA leaders are reluctant to tamper with Operation Exodus at this point by raising targets in the middle of the campaign, which will be completed early next year.
Veteran Jewish Agency leader Max Fisher said that more money could be raised in the Diaspora. But he said the government must prove that its absorption plans are being implemented with the utmost speed.
If this does not happen, he cautioned, pressure will mount on the U.S. Congress to increase entry quotas for Soviet Jews beyond the 40,000 annual level, which he said would be a “disaster.”
Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai told the Jewish Agency Assembly on Tuesday that, given the unprecedented challenge of the mass Soviet aliyah, world Jewry has no choice but to produce massive donations by borrowing money, cutting services in Diaspora communities and sending a greater share of funds to Israel.
“I have been told,” Modai said, “that there are limits on the amount of money world Jewry can raise. You can only do what you can. But this time I must plead, even demand, for you to do more than you can. Whatever you can do is not enough.
‘YOU MUST CUT SERVICES’
“For the next two or three years,” he said, “you must cut services in your communities for the aged, for education and other needs. Won’t we have to do the same in Israel?
“But if you can’t increase your aid to us,” he added, “then we will still carry the burden, but with much greater suffering.”
Sharon admitted to the assembly that the government should have started building houses for the immigrants earlier. He said Israel would open its doors to foreign builders and try to cut the red tape that has hampered all foreign investment.
Referring to past feuding between the government and the Jewish Agency, Sharon pledged to cooperate with “anyone who wants to help” in planning and carrying out absorption.
“There is enough room for all of us, enough difficulties to share, and enough honor to go around if we manage to succeed. Let’s do it together,” he said.