WASHINGTON (Jun. 18)
The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) denounced Thursday a proposal that Soviet Jewish emigrants go directly to Israel through Rumania.
“The plan would deny the emigres’ right to select the United States or other Western nations as their destination of first choice, as guaranteed by international human rights treaties,” the UCSJ said.
The UCSJ position was outlined in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times by Pamela Cohen, the organization’s president, and Micah Naftalin, its Washington representative, and was reiterated in a separate statement by Cohen.
While calling the proposal an “Israeli plan,” the UCSJ criticism was aimed at the negotiations held with Soviet officials last March in Moscow by Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), and Morris Abram, president of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
They negotiated a procedure by which Soviet Jews would fly to Israel through Rumania rather than the current route through Vienna. Although all Soviet Jews leave the USSR with visas for Israel, most go to some other country, chiefly the U.S.
WORLD JEWRY WANTS PLAN: WJC
“The question of direct flights is not an Israeli plan, it was the request of the world Jewish community at the beginning of the emigration movement,” Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
He noted that Soviet Jews go through Vienna because there is no diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel. Rumania was suggested because it is the only Soviet bloc country that has diplomatic relations with Israel, according to Steinberg, who participated in the Moscow negotiations.
In her statement, Cohen charged that the proposal “shifts the focus of attention and energy away from our number-one priority, a high and sustained level emigration on the order of 50,000 per year until all 500,000 who wish to be rescued and leave have gained permission.
“While we hope many more Jews will choose Israel, the State has no right to control their personal decisions by fiat. Israel could provide more encouragement for aliyah by first offering greater political and moral support to those Soviet Jews who have already risked taking Israeli citizenship in the midst of the hostile, anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist environment of the Soviet Union.”
Steinberg said that the Soviet officials told Bronfman and Abram that 10,000-12,000 Jews would be allowed to emigrate within a year. The Jewish leaders “gave no undertaking in return,” he stressed. Instead, they stressed that “the factor in determining the Jewish attitude toward the Soviet Union” would be greater emigration; he said. In issuing its statement, the UCSJ stressed that its position was “an open break with many of the major American and international Jewish organizations that customarily take positions on Israel and Soviet Jewry matters.”
Jerry Goodman, the NCSJ’s executive director, agreed with this. “There is no question that their view is a minority view in the U.S. and Israel,” he said, adding that the issue has been discussed within the Jewish community and most agree that direct flights through Rumania is a good idea.
The issue has also been discussed with Jews in the Soviet Union and “most of the refuseniks who plan to go to Israel were in favor of the proposed Rumania route,” Goodman said.
Goodman added that the UCSJ charge that the Rumania route distracts attention from the emigration issue is a “straw man” which is itself a “distraction” because the Jewish community debated the issue and the Rumania route was supported by the organization leaders as well as the grassroots.
DISPUTE OVER REFUGEE STATUS
Steinberg said that if all Soviet Jews had to go directly to Israel, they could still move to another country later. But the UCSJ said that if they went to Israel, they would lose their status as refugees under U.S. law, and could only enter the U.S. under normal immigration quotas.
While most American Jewish organizations have supported the Rumania route proposals, they have not supported a demand by Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir that all Soviet Jewish emigrants be denied U.S. refugee status since they automatically become Israeli citizens when they apply to leave the USSR.
The Reagan Administration also rejected this proposal.