NEW YORK (Jan. 18)
Iosif Begun, a Soviet Jewish activist and Hebrew teacher granted permission to emigrate in September, after 16 years of harassment by Soviet authorities, will arrive in Israel early Tuesday morning, according to Soviet Jewry groups here.
The 55-year-old electrical engineer and former prisoner of Zion left Moscow on Monday with his wife, Inna; son, Boris; Boris’ wife, Anya; and their children, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and the Long Island Council on Soviet Jewry reported. Neither group was certain whether Anya’s mother was accompanying the family.
Begun was scheduled to arrive in Tel Aviv at I a.m., after a stop in Bucharest.
The news from Moscow brings to an end weeks of uncertainty about Begun’s intentions. After receiving permission to emigrate, Begun confounded OVIR emigration officials as well as Soviet Jewry activists by not leaving immediately.
Among the reasons for his reluctance were that Anya had not yet received permission, his declaration that the Soviet Jewish community would be without a leader and his intention to pursue a slander suit against a Soviet television commentator who Begun alleges called him an “Israeli spy.”
Begun first applied for an exit visa to Israel in April 1971. In the next 16 years, he was arrested and sentenced to exile in Siberia three times for teaching Hebrew and Jewish culture, most recently in 1983. He had served four years of that 12-year sentence when he was released from a labor camp in February of last year.
Following his release, Begun continued to agitate on behalf of Soviet Jews who have not requested permission to emigrate but are dedicated to Jewish life within the Soviet Union.
Soviet Jewish groups welcomed the news of Begun’s departure, even as they voiced concern for those still wishing to leave the Soviet Union.
A statement by the SSSJ said that Begun’s departure “comes tragically not at a time of loosening restriction on Soviet Jewish emigration, but further tightening of the noose.”
The statement referred to a year-old Soviet regulation that allows only those Jews with “first-degree” relatives in Israel to apply for emigration. That regulation, the statement said, “denies emigration applications to 90 percent of Soviet Jews.”
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry said in a statement that it was “delighted” at Begun’s departure, but called on the Soviets “to allow the tens of thousands of Jews who have indicated a similar desire to exercise their basic human right of freedom of emigration.”