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Jewish Agency Leaders Optimistic About Plan for Absorbing Soviets

November 3, 1989
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Leaders of the Jewish Agency for Israel are pleased with the “historic” agreement they reached with the Israeli government this week on a comprehensive program to absorb an expected influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union.

They waxed enthusiastic over the prospects at a news conference Thursday held by agency officials and top leaders of the United Jewish Appeal from the United States.

The agreement, announced Tuesday and endorsed Thursday by the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, provides for a $2 billion housing, absorption and employment program based on the expectation that 100,000 Soviet Jews will come to Israel in the next three years.

The plan calls for the construction of 25,000 new housing units and renovation of 5,000 existing units.

Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the Board of Governors, remarked that it is especially auspicious that the agreement was concluded during a week in which a record high for Soviet aliyah was announced.

The figures showed that 1,464 Soviet Jews came to Israel in October, out of 9,450 who left the Soviet Union that month.

The message going out of Jerusalem to the whole world is that “Israel and the Jewish people will absorb every single immigrant who wants to come here,” Kaplan said.

Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive, stressed the related decision by the Board of Governors this week to put the Jewish Agency in charge of coordinating all Jewish cultural and educational work inside the Soviet Union.

It will devote manpower and resources to, in Dinitz’s words, “condition the hearts and minds of Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel.”

That would be done, Dinitz said, by educating Soviet Jews about their Jewish heritage and Zionism.

The agency has recommended that UJA in the United States and Keren Hayesod elsewhere in the world launch a special campaign to raise $500 million of the required $2 billion over the next five years.

The recommendation is expected to be endorsed at a meeting of UJA leaders in New York next week.

According to the UJA officials visiting Jerusalem, the special campaign will not compete with ongoing fund-raising for domestic and overseas needs.


They expect a substantial easing of the financial burden that has been put on American Jewish federations by the influx of Soviet Jews into United States during the past year.

Because the number of Soviet Jews applying to come to the United States as refugees now greatly exceeds the number of federally funded refugee slots, UJA leaders expect that many Soviet Jews will opt to settle in Israel.

Kaplan believes that the resulting mass aliyah will spell prosperity for Israel. He said that far from being an economic burden to the country, aliyah has always triggered economic expansion.

Kaplan quoted Finance Minister Shimon Peres as telling the Board of Governors that an economic upswing is imminent.

The Jewish Agency leader predicted that a wave of Soviet immigration would create a building boom. Building is “the locomotive of the Israeli economy,” he said.

Kaplan and Max Fisher of Detroit, a longtime UJA and Jewish Agency leader, were repeatedly pressed by reporters about housing across the “Green Line,” meaning in the administered territories.

Kaplan would say only that the $500 million to be raised from world Jewry will be used solely for Jewish Agency projects, which are conducted entirely within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Fisher, who has been close to Republican administrations in Washington, disclosed that Israel would seek U.S. loan guarantees for its immigrant-absorption projects from the State Department’s Agency for International Development.

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