Menu JTA Search

Special Interview Dulzin Cites Need to End Dropout of Soviet Jews

Premier Menachem Begin and World Zionist Organization chairman Leon Dulzin have summoned a special meeting of Jewish organization leaders to discuss the issue of “neshira”–the dropout of Soviet Jewish emigrants to countries other than Israel. The neshira rate is currently of close to 70 percent.

The meeting will convene in Jerusalem later this month, coincidentally with the Jewish Agency Assembly, and Dulzin says he hopes it will decide on “serious steps” to redirect the flow of Jewish emigrants from the Soviet Union to Israel. In an exclusive interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Dulzin said he sees the neshira problem as “a national calamity,” the responsibility for which must be shared by the whole Jewish people. “Today,” he said, “there is no such thing as a Jewish refugee. A refugee means someone who has nowhere to go But today all Soviet Jewish emigrants have Israeli visas–and Israel is ready to absorb them and assist them.”

“My position therefore is,” Dulzin said, “that while there is of course no way of forcing an emigrant to go to Israel, and while he is obviously free to go wherever he wishes, if he chooses to go elsewhere than to Israel, he should do so on his own responsibility, by himself. He should not be assisted to do so by the Jewish people for he is not a refugee. “Dulzin was referring here to the core of the neshira issue as it preoccupies Israel and U.S. Jewish leaders: the aid rendered by the two veteran Jewish refugee organizations, HIAS and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), to Soviet Jewish emigrants arriving in Vienna who “drop-out,” i.e., go to the U.S. or Canada rather than to Israel. “The very fact that he is being assisted in this way,” says Dulzin; “is itself an indirect encouragement to him not to go to Israel.”

HIAS and the JDC house the “dropouts” in hotels in Vienna, and later transfer them to Rome, where they stay, often for months, assisted by these organizations, until their papers are ready and they can proceed to the U.S. Jewish Responsibility.

Dulzin says it is “a general Jewish responsibility” to see to it that most at the Jews who leave the USSR come to Israel. He feels that there has been a marked change among Jewish leaders abroad, especially in the U.S., in their perception of the issue over recent months. Now, Dulzin asserts, “many see the gravity of the problem and want to see the emigrants going to Israel.

“All recognize today that measures should be taken to achieve this end. There are differences of opinions regarding what measures and these will be discussed at our meeting with Premier Begin later this month,” he said. Invited to the meeting are members of the Jewish Agency Executive and top figures in the Jewish Agency leadership, including Board of Governors chairman Max Fisher, several Israeli government ministers, United Jewish Appeal chairman Irwin Fields, UJA president Frank Lautenberg, Dan Robinson, the president of JDC, Ed Shapiro, president of HIAS, Jerrold Hoffberger, chairman of the United Israel Appeal, Morton Mandel, president of the Council of Federations and Welfare Funds (CJF).

Begin has asked the American leaders to consult among themselves in advance and come to Jerusalem, if possible, with concrete proposals to put forward. Fisher is currently engaged in orchestrating these consultations among the American leaders.

SOVIET JEWS ISRAEL’S “GREAT RESERVOIR”

The new sense of urgency, and the sense of change in perception that is felt among some U.S. Jewish leaders, stem, says Dulzin, from the significantly higher migration figures of the past few months. The prospect–on present trends–is for a Jewish emigration from the USSR of some 50,000 during 1979–of whom more than 30,000 will make their way to the U.S. if the present neshira rate is maintained. This would be a “national calamity,” says Dulzin, because Soviet Jewry is “the great reservoir of Israel’s future.”

The WZO chairman stressed that he will continue to ensure that “all Jews who wish to leave the Soviet Union will be enabled to do so, “insofar as that is dependent on the Israeli and Jewish authorities. Dulzin’s concern is with the dropout process that begins in Vienna and continues through Rome to New York. Last month, he recalled, the Presidium of the Brussels Conference on Soviet Jewry, meeting in Rome, me with hundreds of dropouts. “They all agreed that if their sole option were to go to Israel they would go to Israel.”In other words, there is no fear, according to Dulzin, that if HIAS and JDC assistance is cut down, Jews will prefer to remain in Russia rather than leave for Israel.

Dulzin noted with gratification that the Brussels Conference Presidium passed, for the first time a resolution urging all parties involved to take drastic action to reduce the rate of neshira. “Ever since I took office and as (Jewish) Agency chairman, I have been warning against this serious problem,” said Dulzin. “If strong measures are not taken,” the rate of neshira will rise still higher, he declared, and, with Soviet emigration figures currently high and hopefully high in the future, too, that will mean tens of thousands of Soviet Jews, who could have become Israelis flocking in to the U.S.

NEXT STORY