JERUSALEM (Mar. 2)
Max Fisher, chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, disclosed here today that a major new effort is underway to test the willingness of the Soviet Union to allow Russian Jews to reunite with their families in the United States. He said that he had personally approached the State Department to adopt a more liberal policy on entry permits for Soviet Jews.
Fisher described the new efforts at a press conference. He said that “thousands” of affidavits have been sent to the USSR recently by Russian Jews living in the U.S. attesting to close family relationships with particular Jews residing in the Soviet Union. He said the letters were forwarded by HIAS following a decision by a committee comprised of the leaders of all major American Jewish organizations. He stressed that the decision was taken with the knowledge and approval of the Israeli government.
According to Fisher, fewer than 1000 Soviet Jews a year managed to obtain visas for family reunion in the U.S. in the past. But now, with as many as 20,000 Soviet Jewish emigres living in the U.S., including “noshrim” (dropouts) and some who spent time in Israel, the pressure for family reunions has become more intense, Fisher said.
SEEK TO REDUCE MISUSE OF ISRAELI VISAS
Fisher’s remarks appeared to nonplus some Israeli government officials. They acknowledged that the government had been privy to the decision-making process by the American Jewish leadership but were vague as to at what precise stage Israel was brought into the picture. One top official said that Israel’s consistent position has been that the Jewish Agency should help Soviet Jews bound for Israel and other Jewish organizations should assist those going elsewhere, provided the latter were not misusing an Israeli visa.
“We are only interested in cutting down the misuse of Israeli visas so as not to give the Soviet authorities a pretext to claim that the whole aliya movement is a sham because so many ostensible olim head elsewhere.” another official explained.
Some non-government circles claimed that if the HIAS effort succeeds and a much larger number of Russian Jews are able to get visas for emigration to the U.S., it could conceivably afford the Soviets the pretext to claim that the emigration movement as a whole was to the capitalist countries of the West rather than a return to the “national homeland.”
These circles noted that when the dropout problem first arose, Israel feared that the large number of emigres who opted to go to the U.S.would jeopardize the departure of those whose destination was Israel. They said the Soviet authorities would be unable to “justify” the departure of Jews to other disgruntled ethnic minorities in the USSR if it was seen that most of the Jews went to countries other than Israel.
But now Israel’s emphasis apparently has shifted to visa misuse which was, originally, only an ancillary consideration. Jerusalem is now insisting that Jewish organizations abroad desist from aiding Soviet Jews who deliberately abused their Israeli visas in order to discourage others from similar abuse.