Agency Chairman Heads for U.S. for Showdown over Soviet Aid
Menu JTA Search

Agency Chairman Heads for U.S. for Showdown over Soviet Aid

Download PDF for this date

Simcha Dinitz, the chairman of the Jewish Agency and the WZO, flew to the United States for a major showdown with leaders of the Jewish federations over funding for Soviet immigrant and absorption.

“I will not–I cannot–allow Israel to become a junior partner” in the saga of Soviet Jewish emigration, Dinitz declared in a spirited interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency before leaving for New York.

The Agency-WZO chairman has asked to meet with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who he believes will vigorously lend his own weight and prestige in the fight against the federations.

On Wednesday Dinitz will chair a session of the Jewish Agency Executive in Washington, which is expected to be devoted largely to this issue.

The casus belli for Dinitz is a decision by the federation leadership and the United Jewish Appeal on March 28 to allocate the funds raised in the ongoing special Soviet Jewry absorption campaign on a 50-50 basis: 50 percent for the local U.S. communities and 50 percent for “overseas needs.”

“In practice,” Dinitz explained angrily, “that means 25 percent for Israel.”

This is because “overseas needs” means both Israel and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Joint Distribution Committee, the two agencies most actively involved in aid for Soviet Jewish emigrants.

“From a Zionist standpoint, from an Israeli standpoint and from the standpoint of UJA’s raison d’etre–this is absolutely unacceptable.”

Dinitz said he is demanding a full 50 percent for Israel’s absorption needs. This, he said, would accurately reflect the traditional breakdown of UJA-federation appeal funds between local needs and Israel.


Moreover, he said, it was on this understanding that the WZO Executive had supported last December the idea of a special campaign for Soviet absorption.

Dinitz singled out the federations of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago for the brunt of his attack, saying “they led the way” to the March 28 decision.

He referred scornfully to “the ambitions of a few Jewish professionals who are dictating a policy which, I am sure, the vast majority of Jews do not support.”

Dinitz denied that his declaration of open war might exacerbate what many believe is an ongoing weakening of the common purposes linking federation leadership and the Jewish Agency.

Some experts, indeed, see this as part of a growing–and disturbing–trend of Diaspora-Israel polarization.

“I have got to fight that trend wherever it manifests itself–in order to stanch it,” Dinitz declared. “If it manifests itself in a row over fund raising, then I have to fight it in fund raising.”

Referring to conventional wisdom that Diaspora Jewish fundraising needs an Israel dimension to boost its campaigns, Dinitz said, “Now we’ll see if that’s true. If they want to go ahead without us, and succeed–then so be it.”

If federation leaders do not want to force a break, he implied, then they would have to revise their decision and agree to his terms.

As an example of what for him–and, he added, for the entire WZO executive–was intolerable, Dinitz cited a New York UJA-Federation poster for the Super Sunday campaign, held Feb. 5.

Under a picture of Soviet Jewish emigrants was a headline, “We worked hard for their freedom. Now we must help them,” the poster said. “We must continue our life-sustaining support of four million people worldwide and in Greater New York.

“We help children, the elderly, the jobless and the disabled. We help the homeless and people with AIDS. We help Ethiopian Jews settle in Israel, and Holocaust survivors in Poland.”

“We, Israel, have become just a part of the ‘Passage to Freedom,'” Dinitz railed. “But the UJA was created in order to build and sustain the Jewish homeland. Ostensibly, it still believes that that is its mission.”

“Passage to Freedom” is the name of the special UJA campaign launched to help the thousands of additional Soviet Jews expected to emigrate this year over last year’s figures.

But a 75-25 allocation, for the absorption of Jewish emigrants whose emigration grew out of a nationalist-Zionist revival in the USSR, meant relegating Israel and the entire Zionist enterprise to a subordinate status.

“Unity cannot be based on the disparagement of Israel… Let’s call a spade a spade. If they do not recognize these truths, then we go our separate ways.”

Dinitz said he was confident that 5,000 to 10,000 Soviet Jews would arrive in Israel during 1989, out of some 50,000 who were expected to leave the USSR, plus more than 8,000 Jews currently living in the Rome transit centers.

The recent State Department move to increase U.S. refugee quotas for Soviet emigrants would not affect this assessment, Dinitz said.

He cited recent refusenik-oleh Yuli Kosharovsky and other experts to the effect that the negative perception of Israel among Soviet Jews would gradually change as the stream of information grew ever stronger under glasnost, and that this in turn would increase the number of those choosing Israel as their destination.

An estimated 10,000 Soviet Jews visited Israel as tourists during 1988, returning to Russia with first-hand impressions of the Jewish state.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund