Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

If Soviet Jews Have Stopped Coming, Does Israel Need Loan Guarantees?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

If Soviet Jews Have Stopped Coming, Does Israel Need Loan Guarantees?

Article excerpt

If Soviet Jews Have Stopped Coming, Does Israel Need Loan Guarantees?

One of the first priorities of Israel's new leaders will be to break the link between Israeli settlements and U.S. loan guarantees established by President George Bush, and replace it in American public opinion with a link between the loan guarantees and immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Unio This will be difficult if Bush resists because of a significant change since the loan guarantee battle was joined.

The flow of Jewish immigrants has not merely slowed. It may actually have reversed, with more Jews leaving than those entering Israel.

According to Israeli government figures, between late 1989 and mid-1992 roughly 360,000 Jews had immigrated into Israel from the former Soviet Union. The rate of immigration began dropping dramatically in mid-1991, however. By May 1992, it had dropped below 4,000 immigrants per month, a figure that may actually be offset by the quiet emigration of Israelis to the U.S., which has continued for many years, and the return to Russia and other formerly communist countries of new immigrants disappointed with what they have found in Israel.

Right of Return to Russia

There is a serious problem with respect to the retention of the immigrants who are already in Israel. Now that Russian Jews among them are being issued Russian passports at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, they are free to return to Russia or to go to any other country that will admit them. Other countries of the former Soviet bloc are codifying similar new passport regulations that are expected to make possible the reverse immigration of their nationals now in Israel.

The decreased likelihood of large numbers of immigrants arriving in Israel in the next five years throws into question the amount of money that Israel needs to fund the absorption process. Israelis and their American supporters defend their request for $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees over the next five years, over and above Israel's normal aid of $4 billion to $5 billion per year, saying that large sums still are required to provide jobs and to expand the Israeli economy so that Russian and other East Bloc Jews will resume emigration to Israel.

Quite aside from the fact that such federal loan guarantees are sorely needed for American cities and states, the logic and morality of the Israeli argument is open to serious question. Why should the United States obligate itself to the expensive jump-starting of the flagging Israeli economy in order to entice Jews from the former Soviet Union to emigrate to Israel?

The immigration rates of Russians and citizens of the other ex-Soviet countries over the next several years will depend, to some extent, on the hardships involved in conversion of the economies of those countries to free enterprise, and the rate of improvement of those economies after conversion. Future immigration rates also depend upon conditions in Israel. Only when they are considerably better than those of any given ex-Soviet country will citizens of that country be willing to give up homes, friends, language, culture and jobs. Nor will improving economic conditions in Israel increase immigration if conditions in the ex-Soviet country of the prospective immigrant improve at the same or a greater rate. …

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