JERUSALEM (Feb. 21)
Leon Dulzin, chairman-designate of the World Zionist Organization, demanded today that world Jewry stop providing assistance to Jews who leave the Soviet Union but go to countries other than Israel. In his opening speech before more than 600 delegates attending the 29th World Zionist Congress, Dulzin repeated his charges that HIAS was responsible to a large extent for the high rate of “drop-outs” among Soviet Jewish emigres.
According to Dulzin, HIAS enables Jews leaving the USSR to spend weeks in Vienna at “fancy hotels” and months in Rome at the expense “of the Jewish people.” He said “this is intolerable. The Jewish people can no longer afford it.” Dulzin said the drop-outs were utilizing Soviet exit permits which otherwise might have gone to Jews who would come to Israel. “There is no perfect justice, but those who fight for the exit of Jews from the USSR do not do so to immigrate to the U.S. and Canada,” Dulzin said, an apparent reference to the emigration activists in the Soviet Union.
Although the number of Soviet Jewish immigrants arriving in Israel increased during the last six months from 1000-1200 to 2000 per month, the drop-out rate among those reaching Vienna is still 50 percent, Dulzin said. He noted that a committee set up to deal with the problem a year ago no longer meets and the “issue must be raised again.”
Dulzin’s attack on HIAS reflected the belief in Jewish Agency and other Israeli circles that HIAS is influencing Jews from the Soviet Union to go to countries other than Israel. HIAS has vigorously denied this. It has noted repeatedly that it provides aid only after the immigrants have decided against Israel and after Jewish Agency representatives in Vienna have failed to persuade them to change their minds.
In his speech, Dulzin claimed that the public was insufficiently aware of the achievements of the Zionist movement and criticized those who, he said, undervalued it. “Let us not live with an inferiority complex and contempt for ourselves,” he said. “Let us come out of this Congress as proud Zionists and though we may not have accomplished everything, we are still achieving much.”
THE CENTRAL PROBLEM
The ceremonial opening of the Congress took place in the Jerusalem Convention Hall last night before 2000 delegates and guests. Anschel Reis, 92, a Congress delegate for 65 years, announced the official opening, followed by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren who delivered a prayer composed especially for the occasion.
President Ephraim Katzir, who made the opening speech, said: “The central problem facing us is to give Zionism a new interpretation that will be meaningful to today’s Jewry, especially the younger generation.” He said the Zionist movement has never been satisfied with achieving political sovereignty for the Jewish people “but rather believed in a vision of a just society based on moral and cultural values.”
SHIFT OF POLITICAL POWER EVIDENT
The shift of political power in Israel in last May’s elections was starkly evident at the Congress opening where, for the first time, the Labor Zionist contingent was relegated to the back rows while the triumphant Likud occupied the front of the hall. Former Premier Golda Meir was honored with a seat in the first row. But she was virtually ignored by the Cabinet members who sat near her. She was mentioned only in the speech by the outgoing WZO chairman, Yosef Almogi.
The “grand opening” momentarily obscured the bitter differences among the various Zionist factions that are expected to liven the Congress proceedings during the next seven days. Dulzin has declared that he wants the next WZO Executive to be a wall-to-wall coalition representing all Zionist parties.
But a major battle is looming over the allocation of portfolios on the Executive. The hottest issue is who will hold the key office of treasurer which Dulzin vacates. The Labor Party is demanding that post and is understood to have the support of the World Confederation of United Zionists, the second largest body attending the Congress. Dulzin has vowed that the office of treasurer will remain in the hands of Likud.
WARNING BY SEPHARDI LEADER
Another source of friction developed at the first plenary session today when Nessim Gaon, president of the World Sephardi Federation, warned that his group will quit the Congress unless it is given four seats on the new WZO Executive. According to present plans, “non-Zionist” organizations are limited to two seats. “Am I to conclude that we Sephardim are not qualified for leadership?” Gaon asked to the applause of dozens of Sephardi delegates.
He also raised the painful issue of the social and economic gap in Israel. “Our Sephardi brethren, who constitute the so-called ‘second Israel,” forgotten and deprived for 30 years, have lost all patience,” he declared.
While stressing that he did not believe there was a deliberate policy of discrimination, he said the Sephardi community was the victim of the most serious inequities in Israeli society, particularly in housing, education and equal opportunity. “If this situation is allowed to continue, inevitably the result will be social conflict and political confrontation,” Gaon warned.