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Soviet Jewry Activists Split on Shamir’s Position on Soviet Jewish ‘drop-outs’

Two major Soviet Jewry activist groups have told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they do not support Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s request that the United States stop granting refugee status to Soviet Jews, which allows them to come directly to the United States instead of Israel.

Shamir stated throughout his recent visit to the United States that with the existence of Israel, no Jew is a refugee.

Glenn Richter, national coordinator of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, said Wednesday he agrees that Jews no longer may be considered refugees. But he presented a different explanation for “neshira” — Soviet Jews “dropping out” from Israel and coming to the U.S. with their Israeli visas.

“I think that the statements (of Shamir) don’t meet the problem,” he said, “which arises out of frustration from the Soviets’ deliberately releasing those who they know will go to America. The ratio of ‘noshrim’ (dropouts) has remained relatively constant for the last five years.”

“If the Soviet government would permit direct flights from the USSR to Israel,” added Richter, “then Soviet Jews could see Israel for themselves rather than being subjected only to the Kremlin’s propagandistic view of Israel.”

NEW PROBLEM FORESEEN

But there is another problem, Richter observed: “Soviet Jews who arrive in Israel cannot legally go to the U.S. if they ask to leave Israel, because they’ve lost their refugee status. However, a Soviet Jew arriving in the U.S. is always welcome in Israel.”

“One must still retain an element of choice,” Richter said. The issue, as it now stands, he said, creates a “no-win situation.”

Lynn Singer, executive director of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry and a past president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, spoke for both organizations, the Long Island Committee being a member organization of the Union of Councils. The Union’s position, Singer told JTA, is that “We do not agree that neshira destroyed the opportunity for Soviet Jews to receive exit visas. We fully empathize with the State of Israel in its position that all Jews should make aliya. But realistically, the name of the game is free emigration, and this is how the Union of Councils understands it. Family reunification, repatriation, whatever nomenclature one chooses to give it, the energy is for emigration.”

NCSJ STUDYING ISSUE

However, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) is currently taking a more cautious position on the matter. Shamir spoke last week at a session convened by the NCSJ at which leaders of national Jewish organizations were present to discuss the issue of Soviet Jewry.

The NCSJ released a statement following the meeting saying that: “The matters the Prime Minister discussed have now been squarely placed on the agenda of the American Jewish community for careful consideration as an urgent item affecting the welfare of the Jewish people as a whole. The Prime Minister and the community are as one both on the need for substantial and sustained emigration from the Soviet Union to the State of Israel, and that the claim for repatriation to Israel is a valid and compelling argument. There was mutual agreement that issues delineated by the Prime Minister must be subjects for serious and ongoing deliberation.”

Jerry Strober, a spokesperson for the NCSJ, told JTA that the matter of neshira would now be given priority for consideration, but no position one way or another would be taken at this time.

At the other end of the spectrum is Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI), which supports Shamir’s contention that “America’s granting of refugee status to Soviet Jews is unjustified,” and that the use by Soviet Jews of Israeli visas to then continue to the U.S. could be used by the Soviets to clip Jewish emigration.

Joseph Puder, AFSI executive director, stated that “Since reunification of families in Israel is the basis for Soviet emigration policy, any violation of this basic policy can be used as a pretext by the Soviets to cut off emigration.”

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