Prominent Ex-refuseniks Charge Israel is Slowing Soviet Aliyah

An angry controversy has erupted over charges by three-well known aliyah activists that Israeli authorities are deliberately slowing the pace of emigration from the Soviet Union.

The Jewish Agency retorted by claiming that 24,000 immigrants have arrived in the last three months.

The statistic was disclosed by Jewish Agency spokesman Gad Ben-Ari. The agency and the government have been refraining for months from revealing the numbers of olim or the routes they take, reportedly for security reasons.

But this time, official ire was aroused by the allegations of Ida Nudel, Yosef Mendelevich and Professor Yirmiyahu (Herman) Branover, all former long-term refuseniks whose struggles to get to Israel made them living legends.

The three held a news conference here this week, at which they leveled charges Ben-Ari denounced as “grotesque falsehood and chutzpah.”

Nudel blamed “all political parties” for alleged delays in aliyah and absorption. But she singled out the Labor Party, contending that it feared that the preponderance of newcomers from the Soviet Union would vote for the right-wing factions.

She demanded to know why Israeli officials insist they migrate only by way of Budapest or Bucharest, which inevitably reduces their numbers because of the paucity of flights.

“Why can’t they go through Vienna or Helsinki? Why can’t they leave by rail, or on foot?” she asked.

Branover called the situation “a crime against the nation.” Declaring that the potential aliyah from the Soviet Union included hundreds of thousands of academically trained persons who were “a gift worth $20 billion” to the Jewish state, he said the initial welcome of the newcomers was warm and friendly.

But after six months, he said, Soviet Jews suffered from neglect and depression, as they tried to find housing and jobs.

Branover warned of spontaneous outbursts of anger and frustration, if the situation does not improve. He also warned that olim would advise their relatives and friends in the Soviet Union not to come to Israel.

Mendelevich called on settled Israelis and newcomers alike to “sweep through the streets of our cities, demanding action.”

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