Russian economic crisis may spur new aliyah wave

The economic crisis has not yet driven large numbers of Russian Jews to apply for immigration visas from the Israeli Embassy. But Israeli officials in Russia say there has been a flurry of inquiries in recent days about immigration visas.

A sharp increase in Russian immigration would likely have a dramatic effect on the Israeli economy.

The more than 800,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union who immigrated to Israel since 1989 have played a key role in fueling Israel's rapid economic growth of about 6 percent a year during the early 1990s. But massive immigration also demands an increase in government spending on absorption — at a time when the government is committed to cutting the budget deficit.

Next week, Edelstein will present his projections to a government committee on immigration and absorption headed by Natan Sharansky, who, like Edelstein, is himself an immigrant from Russia.

Sharansky, Israel's minister of industry and trade, was in Russia this week to participate in the dedication of a synagogue in memory of victims of the Holocaust. On Wednesday, he held meetings with Jewish community leaders, who told him that the economic crisis has already sparked an increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Meanwhile, President Clinton expressed his concern about instability in Russia and its possible ramifications for the country's Jewish community.

Clinton made his remarks in Moscow at a meeting with American Jewish leaders who came to the Russian capital for the commemoration of the new synagogue.

"He understands the dangers of the Jewish community," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and one of the participants in the discussion.