Too many immigrants flooding Israel Israel unable to find rooms, jobs for newcomers.

April 08, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- The phrase wasn't included in her intensive Hebrew lessons, but Larissa, a new Soviet immigrant, picked it up quickly from the street, where she heard it when looking for a job: Don't call me, I'll call you.

After more than a year of on-rushing immigration from the Soviet Union, new arrivals are having a hard time finding jobs and houses, and government programs to ease the strain seem to be hamstrung by political infighting.

While not ready to admit having made a mistake by fleeing the Soviet Union, some immigrants are already looking for an exit. Their numbers are small. A whisper that lawyers were canvassing newcomers to offer services for emigration from Israel sent an embarrassing shiver through the government and agencies responsible for absorbing the immigrant wave.

"There is a danger that this great opportunity to strengthen Israel will be ruined. In the short run, housing is a problem, but the longer range problem is jobs," says Simha Dinitz, head of an agency that arranges transport of the Soviets to Israel.

About 200,000 Soviets fled to Israel last year. During the seven weeks of the Persian Gulf war, 14,700 arrived, a marked decrease from a record-breaking 30,000 arrivals in December. The reduction was due in part to uncertainty over the course of the war, but 25,000 are expected to come this month.

Some immigrants complain of job discrimination and a backlash against their demands for work. "A few Israelis think that the Russians feel that the state, any state, is there to be ripped off," says an article in Link, an Israeli business magazine.

Many observers view the problem as being rooted in a lack of government planning. Political instability and red tape hamper foreign investment, considered essential for creating jobs for immigrants.

Investment in major projects by the cash-strapped government is also at a standstill, although the Housing Ministry still finds money to build homes and roads on the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip and has delivered scores of trailer homes for Soviets in the West Bank.

Inside Israel, housing starts, estimated to have reached 40,000, are inadequate for the numbers of newcomers flooding the country. The latest arrivals are being put in second-class hotels, sometimes four and five to a room, while they await apartment openings.

"The pace of construction is too little, too late," says Deborah Lipschon, a spokeswoman for a service and lobbying group for the new immigrants. She says 100,000 units are needed this year.

Despite the evident hardships, no one expects the flow from the Soviet Union to dry up soon. Fear of a conservative backlash to the Gorbachev era is driving Soviet Jews to seek visas in steady numbers; 300,000 are expected to come this year.

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