No Place to Go


You're a Soviet Jew and you've finally made it to the Promised Land. You have endured decades of anti-Semitism, lost opportunity and discrimination. You have suffered all your life in a country that did not want you, but did not let you leave--until now. But as you are carried into the arms of religious freedom and democracy, you are suddenly dropped on the threshold. You have been delivered to the Holy Land, but you have no money, no job and no home.

Arrival in the Promised Land is a mixed blessing for Soviet Jews. While President Bush insists that Congress delay action for 120 days on the Israeli request for $10 billion in loan guarantees, Soviet immigrants remain homeless. President Bush's political posturing and reckless abandonment of principle has reached a new peak in the past two weeks. In playing his game of Mideast politics, President Bush has displayed a glaring indifference to the plight of Israel's Soviet immigrants. Just last week, Bush pledged to veto any Congressional resolution to aid Israel in the form of absorption loan guarantees.

AS BUSH BASKS IN the triumph of democracy in the Soviet Union, he is denying support to his only reliable democratic ally in the Middle East. He is shunning the ongoing effort of the U.S. and Israel to relocate Soviet Jewry. He is forgetting the miracle of Operation Solomon that successfully freed 15,000 Ethiopian Jews during the 36-hour operation.

The long-fought battle to free Soviet Jewry has been won, thanks to both international pressure and internal Soviet reform. But the new challenge--to provide homes and jobs for Jewish immigrants to Israel--is just as vital. As both Israel's ally and as an international guarantor of human rights, the U.S. has a moral obligation to recognize and aid the noble Israeli effort. The aid cannot wait until next year. It can't wait 120 days. Soviet immigrants need roofs over their heads now.


President Bush, one of the many who fought for the release of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews, is now turning his back on one million refugees at a time when Israel desperately needs U.S. support. Consider the scale of the absorption project: a country of only 3 million citizens is attempting to absorb one million new refugees in five years. That is like each of France's 80 million citizens migrating to the United States. It's like China absorbing 300 million new immigrants by 1995.

Sadly, Bush sees the Soviet immigrants not as a group in need of America's help and humanitarian aid, but as a bargaining chip for his Middle East agenda. His veto threat is an unjustifiable use of political leverage at the expense of human rights. He is using the Soviet Jews' lives as a device to pressure Prime Minister Shamir into ending settlements in the territories before negotiations at next month's peace conference even begin.

THE NEEDS OF THE Soviet Jews should not be a matter of politics. They are people who simply need assistance, and will thrive with our help. While the Soviets are only allowed to leave the Soviet Union with $100, more than 40 percent of them are college graduates; many have years of work experience. The loan guarantees would be earmarked for providing housing, creating jobs and teaching the Hebrew language to the immigrants.

Four billion dollars alone are needed to expand the water, sewage and road systems to accommodate the unprecedented population increase. To finance the lion's share of the $50 billion cost of absorption, Israel has allocated 20 percent of its budget--six billion dollars--to absorption.

It's hard to understand why Bush wants to delay U.S. backing. The loan guarantees are not an economic risk for the United States. No money will pass from the U.S. Treasury to the Israeli government. The package will only add the United States as co-signers on 10 billion dollars in loans for housing, a partnership that is needed to secure low interest rates for incoming Soviet Jews.

Soviet Jews should not be used as a bargaining chip.

And the U.S. need not worry about footing the bill for bad loans: Israel has never defaulted on a loan in its 43 year history. The guarantees will ignite the Israeli economy, enabling a possible growth of 9 percent a year through 1995. With this economic boom, Israel would have no problem paying its debt. Moreover, because a large chunk of the $10 billion will be invested in U.S. housing companies, the loan guarantees may even improve the struggling American economy.

PRESIDENT BUSH HAS said that he wants to avoid a "contentious debate" in Congress over the loan guarantees. Such a debate, he says, "could well destroy our ability to bring one or more of the parties to the peace table." Bush's argument is nonsense.

As New York Times columnist William Safire noted last week, Secretary of State James Baker was able to convince every Arab leader that ending Israeli settlements in the territories should not be a precondition for peace talks. Baker failed only to convince the President. Bush's obstinance and insensitivity to Israel can only cause problems for next month's peace conference. Strong U.S. demands to abandon settlements in the territories may only anger the Israeli government into sitting out the talks.

If anything is stirring a contentious debate, it is Bush's bullheaded demands for Israeli concessions without negotiations. As Safire noted, Bush's position is "more pro-Arab than the Arabs."

At bottom, Bush's appeal to delay much-needed aid to Israel's Soviet immigrants is thoughtless and counter-productive. Witholding loan guarantees to build homes for refugees and placing preconditions on peace negotiations is both a political and a humanitarian mistake. It is Bush's stubbornness--not American support for Soviet immigrants--which could disrupt next month's peace conference and leave one million refugees homeless.

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