JERUSALEM (Jun. 28)
A newspaper report that the United Jewish Appeal would pay the Romanian government $80,000 for each Soviet Jew flown to Israel via Bucharest was vigorously denied Tuesday by the Jewish Agency and the Foreign Ministry.
The story, by Haaretz’s Washington correspondent, said Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executive, flew to Romania this week to wrap up the deal.
Jewish Agency sources confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Dinitz is in fact in Romania. But they denied the allegations by Haaretz.
The sources attributed the Haaretz report to certain circles that want to torpedo a June 19 Cabinet decision to tighten Israeli policy on issuing visas. It would require Jews leaving the Soviet Union on Israeli visas to fly directly to Tel Aviv after picking up their visas at the Israeli Embassy in Bucharest.
That decision, which would deny Israeli visas to Jews who are not committed to resettling in Israel, raised a storm of controversy here and abroad.
Although Dinitz and Jewish Agency Board of Governors Chairman Mendel Kaplan backed it enthusiastically, leading Diaspora philanthropists are vehemently opposed to the idea. It will be debated anew at a Board of Governors meeting this Friday.
REFUGEE STATUS CHANGES RUMORED
Meanwhile, representatives of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, made it clear they would oppose any change in American immigration laws that would give refugee status to Soviet Jews arriving in Israel.
Under current U.S. laws, the refugee status accorded Soviet Jews exempts them from the quota restrictions that apply to most foreigners seeking to immigrate to the United States. Soviet Jews compelled to go directly to Israel presumably would lose that refugee status and then be less likely to qualify for residency in the United States.
HIAS was reacting to a report by the syndicated American columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak that such changes in the immigration laws are under way in Washington in reaction to the Israeli Cabinet decision.
In Washington, an official with the State Department’s Bureau for Refugee Programs would not comment on the Evans and Novak report.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said the report was “largely erroneous” and referred to regulations implemented in April.
The regulations concerned only political asylum, which the spokesperson said falls under a different category than refugee status.
At first glance, HIAS opposition to a change in regulations concerning refugee status may seem at variance with the agency’s longstanding support of freedom of choice for Soviet Jewish emigres. The organization, in fact, frequently has been attacked by some Israeli government and Zionist officials for helping Jews holding Israeli visas to settle in the United States and other Western countries.
But a HIAS spokesman in New York, while expressing doubt about the Evans and Novak report, confirmed that the immigrant aid agency would actively oppose any American move to allow Soviet Jews to retain their refugee status after arriving in Israel.
‘POLITICALLY AWKWARD’ MOVE
Philip Saperia, assistant executive director of HIAS, told JTA that such a move would be a slap in the face to the Israeli government and would be “politically awkward in the United States,” because it would establish special conditions for Soviet Jews arriving in Israel.
“There are many alternatives to helping Soviet Jews to retain their refugee status, short of doing something like what was supposed in that (Evans and Novak) article,” Saperia said.
He said HIAS continues to support a two-track approach, meaning that Soviet Jews wishing to settle in countries other than Israel would enjoy the same emigration rights as Jews who wish to go to Israel, or who say they do.
At present, Soviet emigration authorities are more lenient to Jews ostensibly bound for Israel. They do not rigorously apply the law that applications for family reunification must come from a first-degree relative.
The law is applied to Jews wishing to reunite with their families in the United States or other Western countries.
HIAS officials in Jerusalem say they do not intend to open a facility in Bucharest that would help Soviet Jews head for the United States, as its facilities in Vienna and Rome do.
(JTA reporter Andrew Silow Carroll in New York contributed to this story.)