TEL AVIV (Sep. 5)
More than 500 non-Jews have left the Soviet Union this year on Israeli visas, complicating efforts to compile accurate statistics on trends in Soviet Jewish emigration.
The non-Jewish emigres, mainly religious and political dissidents, arrive in Vienna along with Soviet Jews. Inasmuch as they carry Israeli visas, they are counted among those who opt to go to countries other than Israel.
This results in inflation of the so-called “dropout” rate — the number of emigres deciding not to settle in Israel. The rate ends up being higher than it would be if only Jews were counted.
The granting of Israeli visas to non-Jews, which is done at Moscow’s requests, also makes it more difficult to measure the overall rate of Soviet Jewish emigration accurately.
Last month, for instance, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry in New York released emigration figures for July that initially included non-Jewish emigres. Its statistics, later corrected, were based on information provided by the Israeli immigration authorities.
The Intergovernmental Committee for Migration in Geneva also compiles Soviet emigration statistics and does not distinguish between Jews and non-Jews leaving on Israeli visas.
Furthermore, the committee tracks those arriving in Vienna and Rome, but does not include those Soviet Jews flying directly to Israel by way of Bucharest, Romania.
TOTALS FOR AUGUST
On Friday, the Intergovernmental Committee reported that during the month of August, 1,864 Jews left the Soviet Union, 116 of whom went to Israel. But these numbers apparently included non-Jewish immigrants leaving on Israeli visas and did not include those Jews leaving via Bucharest.
The number of Soviet Jews who actually arrived in Israel during the month was 169, according to the National Conference, and it put total Jewish emigration for the month at 1,731.
In Israel, the Public Council for Soviet Jewry said 166 Soviet Jews arrived during August and that of 1,918 people emigrating on Israeli visas, 160 were Baptists.
If the Baptists are subtracted from the Public Council’s total, that would put total emigration for August at 1,758, a number still higher than the National Conference total.
There are also discrepancies in overall Soviet Jewish emigration figures reported by various agencies for the year to date.
CONFLICTING ANNUAL FIGURES
According to the National Conference, 9,187 Soviet Jews emigrated from January through August, 1,316 of whom settled in Israel.
The Intergovernmental Committee’s figures for the period are 9,520 emigrants, 1,046 of whom settled in Israel. But again, these figures presumably include non-Jews and exclude those coming via Bucharest.
The Jewish Agency’s aliyah department reported that 9,209 Jews left the USSR from January through August, of whom 1,305 came to Israel.
Of that number, 270 traveled via Bucharest. In addition, about 400 Jews left the Soviet Union with United States visas.
If the Jewish Agency figures are correct, the dropout rate so far this year would be 86 percent.
Jewish Agency officials are at a loss to explain why the Soviet authorities choose to get rid of “undesirables” by requiring them to leave with Israeli documents.
But sources in the Soviet Jewry movement say the procedure is a concession Israeli authorities are prepared to make if it facilitates cooperation between the two countries on emigration.
26 PERCENT INCREASE
If there is one thing that all of the various agencies agree on, it is that Jewish emigration has been significantly higher in the past two years than at any time since 1981.
The August total alone represents a 26 percent increase over the previous month’s total and is the largest monthly figure since October 1980, according to the National Conference.
But the plight of Soviet Jewry is far from over. Commenting on the latest statistics, the National Conference’s chairman, Morris Abram, said Friday:
“While a more-than-20-percent increase may seem impressive, that figure does not even approach a fraction of the number of Jews who seek to emigrate, and is nowhere near that of the benchmark year of 1979, when an average of more than 4,000 Jews a month emigrated.”
(JTA Geneva correspondent Tamar Levy and JTA staff writers in New York contributed to this report.)