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The Issue of Soviet Drop-outs

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A Foreign Ministry spokesman has denied that there is a crisis in relations with Austria because the latter country has rejected Israeli proposals that it take measures to reduce the drop-out rate among Soviet Jews arriving in Vienna with Israeli visas. It was confirmed, however, that Zeev Shek, assistant director general of the Foreign Ministry in charge of its Eastern European desk, and Uzi Narkiss, director of the Jewish Agency’s immigration department, met with high level Austrian officials in Vienna recently to discuss the problem.

According to sources here, the Israeli officials proposed certain changes of procedure in handling Soviet Jewish emigrants in transit and agreements were reached but have not been implemented yet. The nature of the agreements has not been disclosed. According to the Viennese newspaper, Kurier, Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky rejected an Israeli plan to fly Soviet Jews directly to Israel within the shortest possible time of their arrival in Vienna in order to cut down drop-outs.

The rate of drop-outs–Jews leaving the USSR with Israeli visas but opting to go to the United States or other countries–has reached alarming proportions in recent months after slackening off during the summer. The rate is now said to amount to 50-62 percent of all Jews departing from the Soviet Union.

REASONS FOR CONCERN

Israeli aliya officials are concerned for a number of reasons. They say the drop-outs are using Soviet exit visas that otherwise might have gone to Jews desiring to come to Israel. They note that the Soviet propaganda machine is citing the high drop-out rate as “proof” that Jews who apply for visas in order to reunite with their families in Israel were doing so under false pretenses. The heads of two Soviet emigre organizations in Israel charged last week that the KGB (secret police) was deliberately approving exit visas for potential drop-outs while denying them to Jews committed to go to Israel.

The government and the Jewish Agency have tended to blame HIAS and the Joint Distribution Committee for inadvertently encouraging dropouts by assisting them to immigrate to the U.S. Some emigre groups here demand an end of support for those organizations. Others say the solution lies in improving absorption facilities and immigrant housing in Israel. (No immediate comments were available from the JDC or HIAS in New York.)

Rumors that a crisis has developed in relations with the Austrian government stemmed from reports that the Israeli officials who met with Austrian Interior Minister Otto Roesch last month were rebuffed when they offered suggestions to ensure that Soviet Jews travel directly from Vienna to Israel. Reach has had no comments but sources in Vienna said that Austria was not prepared to infringe on the right of emigrants to go to the country of their choice.

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