December 11, 2000
By Elli Wohlgelernter
MINSK, Belarus (December 11) - Despite the ever-decreasing reservoir of Jews living in the former Soviet Union (FSU), the number of Jews immigrating to Israel is expected to remain steady for approximately the next four years, according to Jewish Agency Treasurer Haim Chessler.
"As far as I can see, as somebody who was here as head of the operation for three years from 1993 to 1996, I still believe for the next two to four years the trend of immigration will continue from this part of the world to Israel," Chessler said, "because I don't see any dramatic change here.
"On the other hand, although the reservoir of Jews is getting smaller every year, still, there are enough Jews who are ready to say they are Jewish that will give us the same volume of immigrants in the next three to four years."
Chessler spoke to The Jerusalem Post yesterday afternoon shortly before he was to help open the annual congress of Jewish Agency emissaries being held here.
While the number of immigrants this year from Russia is less than last year, the overall numbers from the FSU, "from Ukraine, and Belarus and central Asia and the Caucasus and the Baltic communities are more or less the same numbers as we predicted," he said.
The reason for the lower number of immigrants from Russia, he said, was because of the election of a new president, Vladimir Putin, and the stability he brought to the country, both monetarily and politically.
Amos Lahat, head of the FSU Department of the Jewish Agency, said immigration from the FSU could change next year, depending on the situation on the ground in Israel. "If the situation in Israel will continue, with the problems with the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries, we will see in the next year a decrease in aliya."
Should that happen, Lahat said, then the Jewish Agency will have to change the system and reevaluate their programs in the FSU. "We must rethink what we do - maybe have more education, maybe more visits for youngsters to come to Israel to see the country, on programs like Birthright and others."
Chessler said that for the Jewish Agency, "the operation in the former Soviet Union is the top priority of the organization - was, is, and will be, in the next couple of years. Not just from a budgetary point of view, but from the priority of the organization: manpower, administratively and ideologically." Regardless of the situation in Israel or Russia, Chessler said, "The most important thing for Israelis is if we make sure that we treat the immigrants well in Israel - this is the best hasbara [public relations] and best method to encourage others to come. Instead of being worried how we should work in the former Soviet Union, like we do, we should worry about absorption. Absorption is more important then immigration."
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