Koch Abandons Fight for Bill to Provide Visas for Soviet Jews

Rep. Edward I. Koch (D., N.Y.) announced today that he “will not now press for passage” of his Soviet Jewry Relief Bill which would provide 30,000 non-quota visas for Soviet Jews to come to the United States. The Congressman explained his reversal by noting Attorney General John Mitchell’s promise to exercise his parole authority on behalf of Jews allowed to leave the Soviet Union which, Koch said, “has the same effect that passage of the bill would have with one favorable addition–that no limitation is placed on the number of Jews who might be paroled.” But before Koch issued his announcement, two California organizations active in behalf of Soviet Jewry said they had learned that the New York legislator was planning to abandon the bill and assailed his action.

Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the California Students for Soviet Jewry said, “I am personally shocked to learn that one of the great new hopes for Soviet Jews is being abandoned. I am saddened and sickened that anyone would forego the Soviet Jewry Relief Act in favor of a promise which neither has the backing nor the permanency of an act of Congress.” Yaroslavsky and Sl Frumkin, chairman of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews, said last night that Mitchell’s offer to use his parole power to help refugee Soviet Jews immigrate to the United Stated was “an exercise in futile rhetoric,” The Attorney General made his promise in a letter dated Sept. 30 to Rep. Emanuel Celler (D,.N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Peter W. Rodino (D., N.J.). Koch hailed the Mitchell statement as “a major shift of policy” by the administration and a victory in “one battle in the struggle to ease the plight of Soviet Jews.”

MITCHELL’S PLAN HAILED

Yaroslavsky and Frumkin declared that “There is nothing in Mitchell’s statement that offers concrete machinery for Soviet Jewish emigration or an iota of pressure to the Soviet government on the same subject. To think the Koch Bill is being abandoned in favor of the Mitchell plan only illuminates the morally bankrupt forces who have pressured Congressman Koch into this fateful decision.” They continued, “We find absolutely no connection between the refusal of permission to emigrate and refugees. There will be no refugees unless the Soviet Union is pressured to issue exit visas and the Nixon administration has taken no serious steps in that direction… Mitchell is offering to help refugees when there are no refugees, and an abandonment of the Soviet Jewry Relief Act ensures that Mitchell’s plan is an exercise in futile rhetoric.”

Yaroslavsky and Frumkin pointed out that the Koch Bill would have enabled Soviet Jews to obtain an American visa while still in the USSR. The Soviet authorities require potential emigres to show a visa from a foreign country but the Mitchell plan provides no mechanism for a Soviet Jew to obtain such a visa. “Although Mitchell’s offer is a gracious one, and in the best tradition of our country, it means nothing without the backing of law, specifically the Soviet Jewry Relief Act.” they said Koch said he had originally introduced his bill because of “the Nixon administration’s earlier reluctance to express this country’s willingness to accept Jews.” The Koch Bill had 123 co-sponsors in the House. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Clifford Case (R., N.J.).

The Koch Bill won the support of virtually all major American Jewish organizations. But opposition to it was expressed last spring by the Zionist Organization of America on grounds that it would divert attention from the efforts of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. Some knowledgeable sources hinted that Israeli circles were pressuring Koch to abandon his bill on similar grounds. The US State Dept. was known to oppose the Koch Bill because it wanted to avoid action that might offend the Soviet government at a time when US policy seeks a detente with Moscow. Mitchell’s plan was hailed at a press conference in the House office building today attended by Congressmen and leaders of Jewish organizations that have been active on behalf of Soviet Jewish emigration. (See separate story, P.3)

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