JERUSALEM (Feb. 15)
A Jewish Agency official demanded Wednesday the closure of a facility in Ladispoli, Italy, where he said some 7,000 Soviet Jewish emigrants are waiting for visas to the United States.
Uri Gordon, head of the Jewish Agency’s aliyah department, addressed a meeting of the agency’s Board of Governors.
He said the facility “cost the Jewish people $25,000 a day” and should be shut to “stop the embarrassment.”
The board, including its American members, agreed that “strong and definite steps have to be taken to close the Ladispoli facility.”
Ladispoli is a seaside resort north of Rome, where a backlog of Soviet Jews waiting to go to the United States has built up in recent months as the waiting time for American visas has increased, due to budgetary concerns.
In addition, the number of refugee slots allocated by Congress failed to keep pace with the accelerated departure of Soviet Jews.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the service arm of the United Jewish Appeal, is providing care and maintenance, a school and social services for Soviets in Ladispoli.
HIAS, the American-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is also active there.
Gordon’s demand reflected the tensions that have been building between Israel and the Diaspora over the mounting cost of absorbing the immigrants, the majority of whom want to go to the United States.
Roughly half of the funds collected by federations and the United Jewish Appeal in North America are allocated for overseas needs. They account for two-thirds of the Jewish Agency’s budget.
According to Gordon, about 50,000 Soviet citizens are expected to emigrate in 1989, between 30,000 and 40,000 of them Jews.
He said if that proves to be the case, “we will soon have some 25,000 stranded drop-outs in Ladispoli.”
Israelis refer to Jews who leave the USSR on Israeli visas but opt to settle elsewhere as “noshrim” — dropouts.
The Jewish Agency announced Jan. 1 it would send emissaries to Italy to try to convince the Soviet Jews in transit centers there to come to Israel.
Gordon said Jews are the only ethnic group who cannot leave the Soviet Union on visas from the country they intend to settle in, but have to leave on Israeli visas.
“It’s unacceptable that the Tatars, the Armenians and other emigrants can leave Russia, but that the Jews have only Ladispoli,” he said.
“It would be better if those Jews waiting to leave Russia for the United States applied for visas at the American Embassy in Moscow, instead of applying only after they reach Italy,” he added.