Soviet emigration officials are allowing Soviet Jews to apply for tourist visas to visit Israel and have cased restrictions on Israelis wishing to visit relatives in Moscow, the Israeli daily Maariv reported Tuesday.
Maariv quoted reports from Moscow saying that an announcement was posted on the doors of the OVIR emigration agency there last week, announcing that “those wishing to visit Israel may now apply to do so.”
Israelis wishing to visit relatives in Moscow, meanwhile, may now apply to Moscow via the diplomatic missions of Eastern European countries, who pass on the entry tourist visas.
Previously, such requests for visas to visit the Soviet Union had to be made through Rakah, the Israeli Communist party.
The new procedures have been confirmed by the Israeli Public Council for Soviet Jewry, which also says that the number of mutual visits has increased recently.
Maariv quoted a Soviet resident now visiting his family in Israel as saying that when he applied to OVIR for a tourist visa he was told, “No problem. Make an application.”
He was granted permission for the visa after a three-month wait and a payment of 200 rubles, he said. The visa itself arrived two weeks later through the Dutch Embassy in Moscow, which looks after Israel’s diplomatic interests in the Soviet Union.
Soviet Jewry activists in the United States said that the cased restrictions are related to diplomatic strategies initiated by the Soviets this summer, when Soviet emigres in the United States were granted brief visas to visit relatives in the Soviet Union.
ADVANTAGES FOR RUSSIANS
“For the Russians, there are a lot of advantages” in casing restrictions on tourists, said Jerry Goodman, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Goodman said the new procedures provide the Soviets with improved public relations, a new source for bringing hard currency into the Soviet Union and what he calls a “low risk, non-political way of having ties with Israel.”
In addition, said Goodman, by allowing separated families to visit one another, the Soviets are hoping to “take the edge off” of the desire of Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union.
Echoing Goodman’s views was Micah Naftalin, executive director of the Washington-based Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, who said in a telephone interview, “The Soviets must feel that this might weaken the pressure by emigres who keep pushing for appropriate emigration levels.
“For instance,” he said, “some Soviet Jews in this country are reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize their chances of getting a visa to visit their families in the Soviet Union.”
Naftalin added that the Soviets have been sending “mixed messages” to the United States since the days leading up to the superpower summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Prior to the summit, OVIR had seemed to be loosening up requirements that Soviet Jews applying for exit visas must have first-degree relatives in Israel. But recently, Naftalin said, those same officials have announced that after the first of the year, having first-degree relatives will again be required for application. It is as if to say, ‘the summit is over now,'” he said.