NEW YORK (Dec. 16)
An assertion by Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen of Rumania that Jews seeking to immigrate to Israel will be exempted from Rumania’s new education tax on emigrants “should be treated with caution,” according to Jacob Bimboum, national director of the Center for Russian and East European Jewry. He noted that “when questioned, no Rumanian official in the West could confirm Rabbi Rosen’s claim.”
The issue involves the publication of a directive by the Rumanian government last November 6 requiring all emigrants to reimburse the government for the free secondary and higher education they had received. The directive caused widespread consternation among Jews around the world. However, according to Rosen, the Rumanian government, for many decades, has made a distinction between “aliya” and “emigration.”
A Jew who is going to Israel to be reunited with his family and with his people and to participate in the rebuilding of “his Holy Land” is not an “emigrant,” Rosen said. “Therefore, his problem was treated in a totally different way. The result is that 350,000 Rumanian Jews have already made their ‘aliya’.”
Birnbaum pointed out that according to reports his office has received from diplomatic sources in Bonn, Washington and Tel Aviv, the Rumanian government has not yet informed prospective emigrants that they would have to pay the education tax and that there is no record so far of anyone having paid that tax.
CITES REPORTS BY RELATIVES
However, Birnbaum said, the Rumanian officials have hinted that the new tax will begin to operate next month and that those leaving now are getting out just under the wire. Relatives of would-be emigrants have reported, according to Birnbaum, that Rumanian officials have questioned prospective emigrants about the ability of their relatives in the West to pay, and that during the past year there have been instances of what they referred to as “ransom money” being “e torted” by Rumanian officials. The relatives believe that if the authorities refrain from a systematic implementation of the education tax because of pressure from Western governments, there will be an intensification of “unofficial ransom” deals in the future, Birnbaum said.
In addition, he pointed out, luggage duties and air fare for emigrants have not only been increased but are payable in hard foreign currency. Even without the education tax, “this is a devastating situation, and some emigrants have been obliged to abandon their luggage and goods and arrive empty-handed at their destination,” Birnbaum said.
For example, he noted, of a group of 62 Jews scheduled to arrive in Israel on November 16, only 45 came. The other 17 could not raise the required hard currency for luggage fees at the time of departure.