JERUSALEM (Apr. 19)
Aliya figures for March showed a continued upswing in relation to last year. The total was 2992 compared to 1988 in March, 1978, an increase of about 55 percent. Most of the rise is attributable to the increased numbers of Jews leaving the Soviet Union, and some 400 Iranian Jews visiting Israel who decided in March to change their status to immigrant or temporary resident.
But “neshira” (drop-out) figures are rising, too. The rate in March was nearly 70 percent. Of the 3137 Jews who left the Soviet Union last month, only 1283 went to Israel. This problem was discussed at meetings earlier this week of the enlarged Jewish Agency Executive at a session of the Coordinating Committee, the government-Agency board which convenes periodically under the Premier.
Leading U.S. Jewish sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that there would be renewed intensive discussions within the American Jewish community leadership on the whole issue of neshira. The sources said they felt a definite shift in thinking among American Jewish leaders, inasmuch as it was now widely realized that neshira was becoming a problem of historic Jewish dimensions.
The size of the Soviet Jewish exodus is growing, and the tide of immigration was seen to be flowing “in the wrong direction,” in terms of the greater good, in long-run terms, of the Jewish people, the sources said. At the same time, these sources stressed, there was strong opposition within the American Jewish community to any form of coercion or pressure on the Soviet emigrants to choose Israel Instead of the U.S. as their destination.
SEEKING A CONSENSUS
Rafael Kotlowitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration Department, reported to the Executive last week that he had met with hundreds of noshrim in Rome and they all told him that if their sole option had been to go to Israel or remain in the Soviet Union, they would have chosen Israel. It is not clear what practical conclusions Kotlowitz sought to infer from that finding or whether American Jewish leaders would necessarily agree with such conclusions.
In any event, the Jewish leaders have undertaken to seek a consensus among their various organizations on the neshira issue before the Jewish Agency Assembly in June. Premier Menachem Begin has reportedly agreed to give public expression to that consensus if he can agree with It personally. Observers have noted that Begin, unlike other Israeli leaders, has been reluctant to contemplate any action against neshira which could or might result in a decrease in the Jewish exodus from the Soviet Union to any destination in the free world.
Kotlowitz reported that there were presently some 146,000 exit requests pending, a higher figure than at any previous time. Some of them came from areas of the Soviet Union from which there had been no aliya until now, he said.
His department recently sent eight Soviet olim as emissaries to Vienna, where they spent two days with the emigrants talking to them about life and opportunities in Israel. The emissaries had undergone intensive training here, including courses with a psychologist who specializes in communication with immigrants.