Sharansky Raps UJA Campaign, Urges Caution on Jackson-vanik

The United Jewish Appeal’s effort to raise money on behalf of emigrating Soviet Jews is hurting efforts to attract more of the émigrés to Israel, former prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky charged here Monday night.

“I don’t agree with the policy of leaders of the UJA” who are raising money for Soviet emigrants in the United States and giving “only a little part to Israel,” he said, during a “Jewish Town Hall” meeting at the Sutton Place Synagogue here. Rather than raise money for Soviet Jews to settle in the United States, American Jews should do what they can to strengthen Israel’s absorption capabilities, Sharansky said.

The UJA’s “Passage to Freedom” campaign, launched in March, aims to raise $75 million for the absorption of Soviet Jews in the United States and abroad. Although the UJA maintains that Israel will receive nearly 50 percent of the funds raised, Sharansky charged that Israel’s percentage will be significantly lower than that.

Speaking with reporters after his public appearance, Sharansky called justifications for the Passage to Freedom campaign “absolutely false logic” that “only strengthens differences that exist” between Israel and the United States.

“We should concentrate our efforts on improving or changing the absorption system in Israel,” he said. “As to those going to America, they must rely more on themselves and loans,” versus grants, from the Jewish community.

MEETING WITH U.S. TRADE OFFICIAL

The range of services local federations provide to Soviet Jews, he said, “definitely influences them not to go” to Israel.

Sharansky was also critical of those Jewish groups that have said current emigration figures justify a waiver of U.S. trade sanctions against the Soviet Union contained in the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

Sharansky said he would consider waiving provisions of the amendment if “the Soviet Union passes, as promised, legislation that gives freedom of emigration” without limitations.

If the Soviets abide by these changes for a year, he said, “then we can speak about waiving Jackson-Vanik for 18 months.”

Sharansky, who heads the Soviet Jewry Zionist Forum in Israel, said he would meet with U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills on Tuesday to express his views on the subject.

He said the Bush administration is awaiting word from Jewish groups on whether or not to waive provisions of Jackson-Vanik, but are not in a hurry “as long as Jews are not in a hurry to press on them.”

Sharansky also said he supported efforts to improve Jewish religious and cultural life in the Soviet Union, but said the recent opening of a Jewish Cultural Center in Moscow was one example of “a public relations exercise without a real change in Moscow.”

He criticized some American Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue, who may “unconsciously” help the Soviets’ public relations efforts when they publicize their Jewish cultural activities in the Soviet Union.

“It doesn’t mean I’m against little things,” he said. “Hasidic people for tens of years were doing little mitzvot and doing it quietly. If others did this without making big publicity, it would be a very good thing.”

Schneier is currently in the Soviet Union with a rabbinic delegation and could not be reached for comment.

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