Behind the Headlines the Problem of Soviet Drop-outs

The problem of drop-outs–Jews who emigrate from the Soviet Union with Israeli visas but choose destinations other than Israel once outside the Soviet borders–has become a matter of grave concern to the Jewish Agency officials and aliya activists here. One aspect of the situation which has produced a sharp divergence of opinion among prominent Soviet Jews who reached Israel after years of bitter struggle is the aid rendered the drop-outs by Jewish humanitarian organizations. (See news story P. I.)

When large-scale aliya from the Soviet Union began in 1972, the arrivals here were mainly committed Zionists and the percentage of drop-outs was negligible. But since then, the drop-out phenomenon grew. Last April it amounted to 63 percent of all Jews leaving the USSR. At present, it is down to 43 percent but Jewish Agency officials are nevertheless alarmed.

The high drop-out rate has been attributed mainly to letters home from Soviet immigrants who came to Israel but had difficulties integrating themselves into life here. Some were dissatisfied with the absorption process. Others simply could not adjust after living their lives under a Communist regime. Many drop-outs are non-Zionists for whom Israel had no special appeal but who took Israeli visas nevertheless as a means of freeing themselves from the Communist yoke.

BASIS FOR CONCERN

Jewish Agency officials understand these factors. Their concern is that the Soviet authorities may use the high drop-out rate to discourage aliya applicants and to counter any international campaigns for the freedom of Jews to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

The matter became acute when it was learned that Jewish aid organizations were helping dropouts reach the United States or other countries, Jewish Agency officials feared that such aid would encourage the drop-out movement. A body of eight prominent Jewish leaders–four from Israel and four from the U.S.–was named to investigate the drop-out movement and seek means to end or reduce it.

The committee reportedly has almost completed its work. Some Soviet immigrant associations here claim that it has already submitted recommendations. According to these sources, the principal recommendation is that Jewish organizations will not regard as refugees any Jews who leave the Soviet Union with Israeli visas. In that case they would not be eligible for assistance unless they came to Israel first and secured there a visa for the U.S. or another country.

OBJECTIONS TO AID CURTAILMENT

Two groups of Soviet immigrants in Israel have objected to any curtailment of aid for drop-outs on grounds that it would reduce overall aliya One is headed by Sylva Zalmanson, a Leningrad trial defendant who served a prison term in Russia before coming to Israel and whose husband and of others are still in Soviet forced labor camps. The other group, known as Maoz, is headed by aliya activists Avraham Shifrin and Elinora Poltinkova.

Zalmanson, who said she came to Israel out of love for the country, observed at a press conference recently that Soviet Jewry was in danger and any Jew who wishes to leave the USSR must be helped regardless of where he wants to go Dr. Meir Gelfand, a leader of the same immigrant association, said: “It is a vicious circle. Action against drop-outs would reduce aliya because fewer Jews will apply for exit visas. There are Jews who would decide to stay in Russia if they thought they had no option but to come to Israel. Fewer applications would mean, in turn, less pressure from within on the Soviet authorities and hence fewer permits would be issued.”

The Maoz group stressed the physical peril facing Soviet Jews and said all must be thankful to the aid organizations for helping them reach America. “Where was it ever heard that one Jew would not help another?” Poltinkova asked. “Russian Jews dream of the democratic way of life. What would they say if they are forced to go where they do not wish to go?”

But other groups of Soviet olim fully support the idea that Jewish organizations must cease aiding drop-outs. These groups include the “Prisoners of Zion” who had been incarcerated in the Soviet Union for Zionist activities. According to Alexander Shpilberg and Lev Yegman, everyone has a right to choose his own destiny but, the Jewish people do not have the moral obligation to finance their search for a warm, comfortable spot.

They claimed that blanket support of drop-outs would not-only violate moral principles but elementary justice because the problem consists not only of helping Jews who leave the Soviet. Union but a question of who should be helped first. They claimed that as Jewish material resources are limited, Zionists have priority.

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