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Caution Urged for ‘understanding’ with Rumania on Emigration

Jacob Birnbaum, national director of the Center for Russian and East European Jewry, urged “great caution” on the issue of Jewish emigration from Rumania in light of that country’s “poor record” since 1975. Birnbaum, who noted that the Center has been instrumental in obtaining the emigration of a substantial number of Romanian Jews in recent years was commenting on the recent reported “understanding” between some Jewish organizations and Rumanian diplomats which may resolve the problem of Jewish emigration.

This was an apparent reference to a statement issued last week in Washington by Jack Spitzer, president of B’nai B’rith International and representing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, that the leaders of these organizations were giving an unqualified endorsement to the continuation by the United States of most-favored-nation status to Rumania “on the strength of understandings between the Conference of Presidents and the Rumanian government.” Hearings on MFN are due to start in Washington Thursday.

According to a study by the Center, the rate of Jewish emigration from Rumania has plunged from 250-350 monthly in the early 1970s to 50 a month in 1979, while the number of Jews who sought to leave “remained heavy.” As of June 30, only nine passports had been issued for Rumanian Jews for July. Despite Rumania’s commitment to comply with the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and Bucharest’s ratification of the Helsinki Agreement, “new emigration obstacles and harassments have multiplied since then,” the Center said.

Birnbaum said that “without very solid evidence of good faith lasting over a period of at least six months, Congress would be In violation of its own laws in providing further extensions of most-favored-nation trade status at this time.”

These assurances and evidence, Birnbaum stated, should include written assurances of intention to comply with the Jackson-Vanik Amendment; recognition of a simple letter of intent to emigrate as being the first step to simplification of the emigration procedure; immediate steps to release long-separated families, at least 500 by September 1979, leading to a reversion to the 250-350 monthly emigration rate; and granting amnesty to several dozen former “scapegoat” Jewish prisoners from the 1960s, as promised last summer, then giving them the opportunity to emigrate.

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