NEW YORK (Feb. 24)
The business of government was not Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s only reason for visiting the United States this week and last. He also came with Jewish concerns.
And as of Monday morning, when he met with a dozen editors of the Jewish press at the Regency Hotel here, Shamir said he had found willing listeners to his worries about Israelis and Soviet Jews going to live in the United States and the various branches of Judaism going at each other. “Since the last year I have tried to concentrate my efforts on Jewish problems,” he explained.
The premier said he offered to 1,200 “yordim” (Israeli emigrants) he spoke to Sunday in Encino, Calif., the services of the Absorption Ministry to help them find jobs and housing in Israel and cope with personal problems.
“It was a start of a campaign,” he said. “It will not be the only meeting.” He asserted that he hoped yordim could establish ongoing contact with Israeli consulates, which are working with the Jewish Agency.
Several hundred thousand Israelis are thought to live outside Israel. “We would like to get them back — if not the parents, then the children,” Shamir said.
He contended that living outside Israel was most painful for the children, who are uprooted from their native language and culture. Moreover, he claimed that many of the yordim of all ages would have a better lifestyle in Israel, as they’re not doing so well financially in the United States and since the Israeli economy is on the rebound.
He admitted that Israelis, even the leaders, used to feel “a kind of contempt” toward the yordim. “We never spoke directly with them. Now we have determined that it’s useless to ignore them.”
SOVIET REFUGEE STATUS
The Premier also reiterated his and his government’s desire to have the United States stop granting refugee status to Soviet Jewish emigrants. That would mean all emigres would go directly to Israel, as their visas indicate. Shamir made this point publicly in Washington last week, and the Cabinet echoed him on Sunday.
About 80 percent of the most recent emigres have come first to the United States and stayed, he said. To allow this to continue undermines Israeli efforts on their behalf, according to Shamir. He said the Soviet government has “partially accepted” Israel’s ongoing contention that Jews have no ethnic place in the USSR and instead belong in Israel.
Finally, the Premier said he was concerned about “the problem of the Law of Return and, as it is defined in Israel and here, ‘Who is a Jew?’” The law allows all Jews citizenship in Israel; however, certain religious elements have sought to amend the law to define Jewishness religiously. The issue becomes especially volatile when focused on non-Orthodox converts to Judaism.
Shamir recently appointed a ministerial committee, which he chairs, to examine solutions to the issue, and he said he would meet Tuesday with leaders of American Conservative, Orthodox and Reform Judaism and invite them to make suggestions to the committee.
In response to questions, the Premier downplayed the differences between himself and the Reagan Administration on the prospect of an international conference to discuss peace in the Middle East.
He claimed that Administration officials have suggested the conference as only a possibility, and have not applied pressure. “They are very far from being enthusiastic about such a conference,” he said.
He didn’t indicate if his disagreement over the conference with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres could rupture the Labor-Likud government, as he did later Monday to another group of journalists (see February 24 Bulletin).
As for the Lavi, Israel’s fighter plane that the Pentagon wants to discontinue because of cost estimates that exceed Israel’s, Shamir said, “I think we will find another solution together with the American government.”
The editors thanked Shamir for being the first Israeli Premier to hold an exclusive meeting with editors of the American Jewish press.