WASHINGTON (Sep. 14)
Secretary of State George Shultz has restated the U.S. position that Soviet Jews should have “freedom of choice” in deciding whether they ant to immigrate to the United States or some other country rather than Israel.
“If they wish to go to Israel, I’m all for that,” he said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
“But you do have a fundamental principle of freedom of choice that we have to stand by,” Shultz added. “The Israelis are not against freedom of choice; they just want to rig the system a little bit.”
Shultz was referring to the Israeli Cabinet’s decision in June to restrict Israeli entry visas to those Soviet Jews committed to settling in Israel. Those who wish to go to the United States or some other country would have to seek visas from those countries.
To assure that this policy would be carried out, Israel has been seeking the cooperation of the Soviet Union and Romania to require Soviet Jews with Israeli visas to go directly to Israel thorough Bucharest.
At present, most Soviet Jews go to Vienna, from where the majority then go to the United States, rather than Israel.
While not directly criticizing the Israeli effort, Shultz said that “if things are done that seem to go against freedom of choice, we can’t be in favor of that.”
The Israeli proposal has not yet been put into operation, partly because the Netherlands has refused to cooperate. The Dutch Embassy in Moscow distributes the visas to Jews who have been given permission to emigrate.
UCSJ IS PLEASED
Shultz’s comments were greeted with approval Wednesday by the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, which has criticized the Israeli policy.
“We believe that it is the responsibility of the United States government, not Israel, to press the Soviets to provide for freedom of choice, consistent with the international agreements they have signed,” said Pamela Cohen, UCSJ president.
UCSJ has pointed out in the past that if Soviet Jews are required to go to Israel, they will no longer have freedom of choice, since they will lose their refugee status.
Shultz would not confirm Tuesday that the State Department has been drafting legislation that would allow Soviet Jews to have refugee status even if they go to Israel. He did note that there “have been all sorts of suggestions about possible screening in Moscow, rather than after they leave Moscow.”
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry said Wednesday that it “explicitly supports the principle of freedom of choice for those Jews who apply to leave the USSR.”
“The choice may be exercised through a ‘two-track system’ in which Soviet Jews with Israeli visas travel directly there through Bucharest, or with American or other visas, to the West,” he explained.