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Israel's New Exodus

The influx of Soviet Jews will strengthen Israel's economy, politics, and diplomatic position. Its Arab foes should bow to reality.

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JEWS from the Soviet Union are flocking to Israel by the thousands every day, making Ben-Gurion airport look like turn-of-the-century Ellis Island. The massive exodus is bound to transform the state of Israel and should loom as a road-sign for Arab countries: The time has come to recognize Israel's existence. Israel's 4 million Jews may increase by as much as 50 percent within a few years. By 1997, for the first time since antiquity, the world's largest Jewish community will be in Israel. For Israel this is a long-awaited blood transfusion that is likely to strengthen it economically, politically, and diplomatically.

Judging by past experience, Israel will absorb the current wave of immigrants within a few years. In the 1950s, 1 million Israelis, predominantly from European countries, absorbed about as many Jews from pre-industrialized Muslim societies. It took long and painful decades to bridge cultural and economic gaps, but today 25 percent of marriages in Israel are between these two groups, and Israelis from Muslim countries have reached such positions of prominence as president of Israel, chief of staff, foreign minister, finance minister and CEO of the biggest bank.

The well-educated and highly-skilled Soviet immigrants, including engineers, musicians, scientists, doctors, surgeons and writers, will make it in Israel even faster. There already are signs of economic growth. For the first time since the eruption of the Palestinian uprising, Israel's gross domestic product rose by more than 5 percent in 1990.

The 200,000 immigrants who arrived in Israel last year found housing, one way or another. The 400,000 immigrants expected in 1991 might have to live for a while in caravans and tents. But Israelis are willing to sacrifice for this cause, and they will. The government's 1990-91 budget appropriated more money for immigrant absorption than for any other purpose - the first time ever that defense did not win the lion's share in Israel's expenditures.

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