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Shamir Plan for Immigration Agency Ruffles Absorption Minister Peretz

January 12, 1990
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Plans to establish a super agency within the Prime Minister’s Office to cope with the rising tide of immigration from the Soviet Union drew a protest Thursday from Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz, who complained that he was being bypassed.

Peretz, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, did not rule out the need for such an agency, but said he thinks he should be put in charge.

Otherwise, he told an Israel Radio interviewer, “it would be a vote of non-confidence in me by the prime minister.”

The Prime Minister’s Office announced Thursday that it intended to create an agency with overriding authority over immigration and absorption matters.

It said Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir would submit the plan to the Cabinet for approval this Sunday and that he wanted to name a well-respected national figure to head the new department.

But according to Peretz, “Shamir told me an entirely different story only last night.”

He said he was given to understand that only “a small bureau” would be set up in the Prime Minister’s Office and that its activities would be confined to Jews who have not yet left the Soviet Union.

It is generally agreed that Peretz’s ministry is doing a credible job handling the recent surge of immigration from the Soviet Union.

Peretz noted that the arrival rate is now 2,000 a week and that on any given night as many as 500 olim land at Ben-Gurion Airport for immediate processing by the Absorption Ministry.

But if Peretz feels he no longer has the confidence of the prime minister, he would have no option but to resign, he said.

Observers promptly noted that his departure would made it difficult for Shas to stay in the unity coalition government.

The ultimate decision would rest with the party’s Council of Sages, headed by the former Sephardic chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef.

Meanwhile, the name of dovish Labor Party Knesset member Arieh (Lova) Eliav was mentioned as a possible choice to head Shamir’s super agency. But sources at the Prime Minister’s Office said Likud would resist his appointment.

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