Soviet Umbrella Group Formed, Combines Two Dozen Organizations

Nearly 400 activists representing two dozen Soviet emigre organizations convened here Sunday night to launch a new umbrella body, and elected ex-refusenik Natan Sharansky as its first president.

Although spokesmen for the new organization insisted it was non-political, seasoned observers regard the formation of the Zionist Federation of Soviet Jewry as a significant development for the 180,000-strong Soviet immigrant community in Israel, and for the world-wide struggle for free Jewish emigration from the USSR.

The founders plan to elect an 11-member executive committee in the near future. Its members will represent the various political and cultural strands within the Soviet immigration movement, and will include, for example, one member from the Likud-affiliated Soviet emigre organization and one from a Labor-aligned organization.

According to emigre activist Yosef Mendelevich, the new federation will enable the movement to “speak with one voice.” He said they would take extreme care to avoid politics, and that he was confident ideological divisions could be transcended in order to establish a strong, broadly-based organization to serve the common interests of all emigres and activists.

Sharansky, in his acceptance speech, told why the new federation was formed. “We fought the officials of the KGB to make aliyah, and then we had to struggle here with the officials who control absorption. It is time we stopped fighting the bureaucrats and started to take responsibility for our own affairs,” he said.

Some observers see the new federation as a challenge to the establishment-linked Public Council for Soviet Jewry, which has existed for many years and is led by public figures.

They also see it as a possible attempt to forge direct links between the activist leadership here and the leadership of diaspora Jewry, circumventing the existing World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency channels.

The new federation probably will seek financial and political support from the United States and other Jewish communities, directly and independent of existing fund-funneling structures.

The federation has not yet taken a position on the Israel government’s recent changes in visa arrangements aimed at restricting Israeli visas to those Soviet Jews who intend to come to Israel.

Under the new arrangements, those immigrants would pick up their visas in Bucharest, Romania, from where they fly directly to Israel. Other would-be immigrants would apply for visas to the country of their choice, which they may do under the revised Soviet exit regulations.

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