TEL AVIV (Mar. 31)
Israeli officials and Kremlin-watchers reacted cautiously to reports that the Soviet Union may be prepared to permit the emigration of some 12,000 Jews over the next 9-12 months and that they will be able to fly from Moscow to Tel Aviv, via Rumania, bypassing the traditional transit point in Vienna.
Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office insisted Tuesday that nothing had been finalized and observed that the number of visas allegedly promised by the Soviet authorities was tiny compared to the 400,000 Jews who are reported to be seeking emigration.
At the Foreign Ministry, however, officials stressed that every Jew allowed to leave the Soviet Union is an achievement. While hopeful that changes in emigration policy may be on the way, the officials cautioned that the reports which surfaced in New York Sunday and Monday have not been confirmed.
President Chaim Herzog, who was to leave Tuesday on an official visit to Switzerland and West Germany, was optimistic. He said reports from Moscow, together with other indications, pointed to a real change in Soviet attitude for which Israel should be prepared.
A spokesman for Premier Yitzhak Shamir flatly rejected suggestions of a connection between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s apparent new policies and Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ support for an international conference on Middle East peace in which the Soviet Union would participate. “Definitely not,” the spokesman said, adding that the Premier remains unalterably opposed to an international conference.
MAIN ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE TALKS
The Foreign Ministry said the main achievement of talks held in Moscow between Western Jewish leaders and ranking Soviet officials was the institution of flights to Israel via Rumania. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, told the Jewish Telegraphic in New York Monday that he had negotiated the new procedure last month in Moscow and Bucharest.
The Foreign Ministry cited talks held in Moscow last week by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Morris Abram chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
Abram told the JTA Sunday that they had a “candid discussion on the subject of Soviet Jews in all of it aspects” with Soviet officials and were optimistic. He added that “events of the next few months will tell whether the optimistic mood in which we returned is justified.”
According to Schneier, the flight via Rumania will bring Soviet Jews to Israel in greater numbers. They will not be able to obtain U.S. visas as they have done in Vienna until now. An estimated 80 percent of Jews leaving the USSR via Vienna have opted to go to the U.S. rather than Israel although they carry Israeli visas.
READY TO DEAL WITH NEWCOMERS
Some officials here expressed concern over how Israel’s strained economy will be able to absorb large numbers of Jews arriving from the Soviet Union. But Absorption Minister Yaacov Tsur sees no problem. He said his Ministry was “ready, willing and able” to deal with up to 50,000 newcomers a year. “Let them come, we won’t regret it,” Tsur said.
He added: “We are very happy to hear about changes of the policy of Russia toward the Jewish question and about Jewish life in Russia. Our main hope now is to bring about the release of Prisoner of Zion from their prisons and to prepare ourselves for the possibility of their absorption here in Israel.”
Various groups here active on behalf of Soviet Jews, which keep close tabs on events in Moscow, adopted a wait-and-see attitude to the reports of a more liberal emigration policy. Some suggested that Gorbachev might be moving too fast for his more conservative Kremlin colleagues and that “his days could be numbered.”
Israel Radio reporters who telephoned Moscow to confirm the reports were told by Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Genadi Gerasimov that he had “no details.”
Jewish Agency officials said that even though the reports are yet to be verified, they have begun preparations to receive large numbers of Soviet Jews here within a matter of weeks.