Reports That Large Numbers of Soviet Jews Receiving Visas Puzzle Israeli Authorities

Israeli authorities are puzzling over whether recent reports that large numbers of Soviet Jews are receiving exit visas indicate a softening of Soviet policy or a temporary measure to avoid embarrassing incidents when the World Communist Party Congress convenes in Moscow at the end of March. Officials dealing with Soviet immigration here were unable to confirm a Moscow report by Agence France Presse that the Soviet government intends to issue 300,000 exit visas to Jews over the next few years. Israeli radio commentators speculated that the report may have been a Soviet propaganda maneuver to quiet public opinion in the West. But immigration Minister Nathan Peled said last night that “there is no reason not to attach serious significance to the news from Moscow.” (Authoritative Soviet sources denied the report that 300,000 exit visas would be issued to Jews. The sources said such reports were “irresponsible and absurd” and warned that they could have the effect of inhibiting Jewish emigration rather than aiding it. The indication was the persistence of reports of large scale visa grants to Jews might force Soviet authorities to clamp down for fear that other Soviet minorities might demand emigration rights.)

(According to reports from Moscow over the week-end, Jewish sources said they had information that virtually every applicant in Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, received permission to leave in recent days. They said there were also rumors that large numbers of Jews in Latvia and Lithuania have been given exit papers. One source said the visa office in Moscow remained open on Thursday, when it is normally closed, in order to issue exit documents to 15 Jewish families.) Israeli officials are beginning to express guarded concern over the impact a sudden large influx of Soviet Jews would have on Israel’s absorption capacity and economy. Peled said, “should the report prove true, then the admission of such a large number of immigrants would face the nation with a very difficult challenge.” Moshe Rivlin, director general of the Jewish Agency, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the absorption of 300,000 immigrants would cost hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. “We shall have no control over the rate of immigration, but we will certainly not do anything to slow it,” he said. “We shall be glad to take them in even if all the 300,000 were to come in one year.” He recalled that during the first year-and-a-half of Israel’s independence, about 300,000 immigrants arrived, “but then our conditions and possibilities were much more limited than today.”

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