WASHINGTON (Aug. 18)
The State Department has refused to endorse the bills in both branches of Congress to provide 30,000 emergency visas for Jewish citizens of the Soviet Union who wish to leave that country and settle in the United States, it was disclosed here today. The State Department claims that the U.S. Attorney General has the authority to admit “a substantial number of Soviet Jews” and “there is therefore little technical need” for the proposed legislation. The Department’s position was revealed in a letter to Rep. Emanuel Celler, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, whose office made it public. The Congressman, who is traveling in Europe, was informed about it yesterday in Oslo.
David M. Abshire, Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations, signed the Department’s letter to Celler. While “deeply sympathetic to the humanitarian aims of the proposed legislation,” Abshire said, the Attorney General has acted in a number of emergency refugee situations to take refugees into the U.S. when “existing machinery and visa and conditional-entry numbers were insufficient to meet the demand.” Abshire elaborated: “This means was used to assist large numbers of Hungarian refugees after the 1956 uprising in Hungary, and is presently being used for large numbers of Cuban refugees. You may be certain that in a similar situation the Department would strongly support the use of parole by the Attorney General for a substantial number of Soviet Jews.” With Congress in recess until Sept. 1, leading advocates of the emergency visa bills were not immediately available for comment. A spokesman for Rep. Edward I. Koch, Democrat of New York and sponsor of the House bill, described the Abshire letter as “not satisfactory.” The spokesman pointed out that Abshire did not, for example, write that the Secretary of State has recommended to the Attorney General “that the means for emigration be made available, which would, in effect, say to the Jews of the Soviet Union: ‘You are welcome to come to the United States.’ “
One hundred and twenty Representatives have co-sponsored the visa measure introduced by Koch on March 4. Thirty-four Senators support the upper house version. The Jewish leadership in the U.S. has split on the issue. Such leaders as Rabbi Bernard A. Poupko, president of the Religious Zionists of America, and Rabbi Abraham Gross, president of the Rabbinical Alliance, have argued for the legislation. Herman L. Weisman, president of the Zionist Organization of America, has asserted that “at the present time it is neither realistic nor productive to support unproven propositions which serve only to divert attention from the basic issue–aliya (to Israel) for Soviet Jewry.” Political observers here believe that the State Department’s opposition to the visa bills, as well as to the proposal for Yiddish and Hebrew broadcasts into Russia on the Voice of America, is based on a desire not to offend the Kremlin during this period of delicate negotiations on various international Issues.