Private Groups Accused of Trying to Indoctrinate Soviet Immigrants

A former refusenik who immigrated to Israel in 1987 after serving three years in a Siberian labor camp has complained that ideological and political groups are trying to indoctrinate the Soviet olim who have arrived in recent months.

Yuli Edelshtein, an English teacher who manages a camp for Soviet Jewish youth, charged Tuesday that religious groups, including the Reform movement and the Chabad Hasidim, as well as such political movements as Labor and the socialist Hashomer Hatzair, pressure young immigrants to attend their summer camps and inculcate their ideology.

Edelshtein insisted, however, that his camp, sponsored by the Soviet Jewish Zionist Forum, an umbrella organization, is apolitical.

When he arrived in Israel with his wife and daughter on July 12, 1987, Edelshtein was greeted by a huge crowd at Ben-Gurion Airport, mainly Orthodox Jews.

It was noted even then that groups in Israel working on behalf of Soviet Jews had been virtually taken over by religious activists.

But 50 young Soviet olim, all high school students, attended a seminar on democracy in Jerusalem this week, organized by the Golda Meir Educational Association, an affiliate of the secular Labor Party.

A spokesperson stressed that it was entirely non-political in content and that its sole purpose was to help acclimate Soviet Jewish youth to an open, democratic society they had never known.

“We discuss the general topics of democracy and human rights,” said Hanna Kochavi, who is in charge of a camp affiliated with the Golda Meir Association.

The seminar was led by reserve Gen. Ephraim Sneh, former head of the civil administration in the West Bank and a close aide to Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres.

Meanwhile, more than 3,000 people have showed up at the Israel Volunteer Center to offer to work with newly arrived immigrants.

But the turnout is far less than needed, according to Yossi Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, who visited the center himself Tuesday. He said he hoped the number of volunteers would increase tenfold.

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