Jerusalem (Aug. 20)
The Jewish Agency announced today a new plan designed to drastically reduce the dropout rate of Jews leaving the Soviet Union. The plan calls for reducing the number of Jews who will get assistance if they decide to settle in the United States.
Under the new arrangement, HIAS and the Joint Distribution Committee, the agencies which handle Soviet Jews on their way to the U.S. will take care only of those who have parents, children or spouses in the U.S. The others will come to Israel with the help of the Jewish Agency — or be on their own in Europe.
Speaking at a press conference here today, Leon Dulzin, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, declared: “A Jew who comes, wherever he comes, if he wants help, has to be helped. If a Soviet Jew will come tomorrow to Cleveland, he is a Jew, and if he needs help he should be helped. But I don’t have to help him get there. My duty is to help him come to Israel.”
The new measures end a long period of deliberations on the issue. If Dulzin had his way, he said today, he would have taken those measures a year and a half ago and thus cut down the growing rate of dropouts — which reached 80 percent last month.
Last year HIAS and the JDC accepted the compromise suggested by Premier Menachem Begin, which stipulated that the two organizations would only aid those whose first degree relatives live in the U.S. But the compromise was turned down by the communi
ties in the U.S., Dulzin said. The new measures were therefore a unilateral step, with the Jewish Agency imposing its will on those who support assistance to Jews — whether they go to Israel or to the U.S. In an effort to appease the American Jewish community, Dulzin went especially to the U.S. this week and informed local Jewish leaders of the decision.
He met with JDC president Henry Taub, JDC executive vice president Ralph Goldman, HIAS president Edwin Shapiro, and HIAS executive vice president Leonard Seidenman and asked for the “understanding” of both organizations and their cooperation. “I am sure they understood our stand and hope that there will be cooperation,” Dulzin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today.
He also met with Max Fisher, the chairman of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, who, Dulzin said, “expressed reservations about the timing and suggested that action be postponed until after the Jewish Agency General Assembly” which opens in Jerusalem Aug. 28; Howard Squadron, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress; Theodore Mann, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; Dr. Seymour Lachman, chairman of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry; and Charlotte Jacobson, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-American Section.
REASONS FOR THE NEW MEASURES
Dulzin said the reasons for the new measures which were taken with the knowledge of both Begin and Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres, were:
The Soviets made it absolutely clear that the high dropout rate was the reason for the cuts in exit visas for Jews. Furthermore, the Soviet Ambassador to Canada, Yaacov Lev, said in a recent meeting with Members of Parliament in Ottawa, that the USSR made an exception by allowing Jews to emigrate to Israel, a privilege it gave to no other minority. “Unfortunately 80 to 90 percent do not go to Israel,” Dulzin quoted the Soviet Ambassador as saying. Rabbi Yaacov Fischman, Chief Rabbi of Moscow, said in a telephone conversation with Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren of Israel that the high dropout rate endangered the emigration of Soviet Jews. The number of Jews leaving the USSR dropped from 4,000 two years ago to 2,000 last year and some 700 last month.
Last year the Soviets announced that they would only give exit visas to those who have a first degree relative in Israel. Thus, all those who dropped out actually closed the doors to those of their relatives who would have followed them to Israel.
The high rate of dropouts also jeopardized the campaign of thousands of refuseniks inside the USSR and the worldwide campaign for the release of Soviet Jews. “If Jews go to America, we have no case for our struggle,” Dulzin said.
Referring to the possible confrontation with American Jewish communities over the new measures, Dulzin admitted that this was a step whose outcome could not be foreseen. But, he added; “Rather than sweep the crisis underneath the rug, we decided to bring it into the open and continue the campaign.”
Dulzin added that if Soviet Jews made Israel their first stop, rather than going directly to the U.S. they would stay here. He noted that only five percent of Soviet immigrants left the country after settling here.