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Protest at Aeroflot Office Makes Little Headway for Direct Flight

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Nine Soviet Jewry activists failed last week to convince the regional manager of the Soviet national airline Aeroflot to begin direct flights to Israel.

Rabbi Avraham Weiss, who led the group, even tried to lay down cash for a ticket to Israel, but was politely told he could not do so.

The group, made up of activists from the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry and the North American Jewish Students Network, demonstrated Friday in front of the Soviet airline’s office here during the U.S-Soviet summit meeting that concluded Sunday.

Aeroflot officials spoke to Weiss, the SSSJ’s national chairman, after he showed up at their downtown office, a little more than a block from the Soviet Embassy.

Weiss and his fellow activists were clad with yarmulkes and prayer shawls, and carried a Torah.

Victor Novoselov, the office manager, told the activists that the Soviet Union does not have any objection to allowing Jews to travel directly to Israel.

In December, Aeroflot and El Al, the Israeli national airline, signed an agreement allowing for the first direct flights ever between their countries. But the Kremlin has not ratified the agreement, citing Arab concerns that the Soviet Jewish emigres likely to take advantage of the flights will be settled in the administered territories.

REFUSENIK ADDRESSES CAPITOL RALLY

Vladimir Pismennyi, Aeroflot’s Washington regional manager, came out through a side gate to tell Weiss the matter is a “completely political issue” and that “we are only the carrier.”

“We believe that you have succumbed to Arab pressure,” Weiss told Pismennyi.

Pismennyi told Weiss, “We are ready to fly” if the agreement is ratified.

When Weiss exhausted his arguments, he said he had money with him to purchase Aeroflot tickets to Israel on the spot.

Pismennyi smiled and said that while Aeroflot accepts cash, there were no such tickets. “You cannot reach your goal by this means,” he said. In the end, the two men shook hands.

Novoselov spoke with the group for another 10 minutes as Weiss and the other demonstrators sat on the cement floor in front of the office.

They carried posters with slogans such as “Stop Arab Plot Against Israel” and “The Bush Jerusalem Plan: A Half-Bakered Idea,” referring to Secretary of State James Baker.

Also Friday, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews rallied on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, along with groups favoring independence for Lithuania.

Those addressing the crowd of a few thousand included former refusenik Maria Milman, whose father has been refused permission to leave the Soviet Union on the grounds of having been privy to “state secrets”; Sens. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) and Donald Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.); and Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif.).

“We applaud the Lithuanian offer to the Jews of Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev to grant them asylum” if “the current wave of anti-Semitism erupts into large-scale violence,” said Robyn Lieberman, UCSJ’s assistant director for government relations.

AN AWARD FOR GORBACHEV

There were other words of praise for the Soviets during and immediately before the summit.

In Leningrad, UCSJ President Pamela Cohen commended the regional legislature, known as the Leningrad Soviet, for approving a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and for having the only human rights commission in the Soviet Union.

She is believed to be the first president of a Western human rights group to address a Soviet legislative body.

Here in Washington, Rabbi Arthur Schneier presented Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on Friday with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation’s Man of History Award for “changing the course of world events in our time.”

At a ceremony in the Soviet Embassy, Schneier, who is president of the foundation, also announced the creation of a Gorbachev Scholar Program that will enable 10 Soviet graduate students to study at American universities each year on all-inclusive scholarships.

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