WASHINGTON (Dec. 18)
Because the Soviet Union believes in “freedom of choice” for Soviet Jews wishing to emigrate, it will not drop its ban on direct emigre flights to Israel for the foreseeable future, a senior Soviet Embassy official said Tuesday.
Soviet political counselor Vyacheslav Matuzov said that for economic reasons, many Jews who are able to leave the Soviet Union on Israeli visas would like to have the opportunity to emigrate instead to other European countries or the United States.
To deny emigrating Soviet Jews access to a transit point such as Bucharest would be “against their will,” Matuzov told an American Jewish Committee symposium here.
The symposium, which was also addressed by Israeli political counselor Shimon Stein, was billed as the first between Soviet and Israeli officials since their recent resumption of full consular relations.
Stein did not respond directly to the “freedom of choice” rationale, but another senior Israeli Embassy official said later that “the great majority (of Jews) who leave the Soviet Union would like to go to Israel.”
Matuzov also cited concerns by Arab governments and others that the Soviet Union is providing Israel “with population.” He added that while the Soviet Union has until recently been perceived as friendly only to Arab countries, he did not want the impression created that his country is now friendly only to Israel.
The Israeli official, who declined to be named, argued conversely that “the fact that a very high percentage (of Soviet emigres) are scientists and engineers will eventually promote the chances for the peace process and cooperation between Israel and the Arab countries” through cooperative programs.
SOVIET ANTI-SEMITISM CITED
Stein, in his presentation, challenged Matuzov on his argument that Soviet Jews emigrate mainly for economic reasons. He argued that there is also growing anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union stemming from a desire by the Soviets to find a scapegoat for the country’s economic woes.
This year marked a “dramatic shift” in Soviet emigration policy, Stein said, citing the emigration of more than 100,000 Soviet Jews.
Another improvement in Israeli-Soviet relations this year has been a reduction in “hostile propaganda toward Israel in the Soviet media,” Stein said.
He cited a statement by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze opposing Iraqi attempts to link a withdrawal from Kuwait to a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But Stein said there are “still remnants of old thinking,” citing the absence of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Stein pointed out that the Soviet Union recently resumed relations with Saudi Arabia.
Matuzov replied by quoting a statement Shevardnadze made last week that the Soviet Union has no preconditions for restoring relations with Israel, such as Israeli willingness to take part in an international peace conference.
He even said that the Palestine Liberation Organization has told Moscow that it would support a renewal in full Soviet-Israeli ties as a way to make progress on the peace process.
Stein did not comment on that point, but the other Israeli official said that “from everything I’ve seen, the PLO is putting pressure on the Soviet Union not to start full diplomatic relations and (instead) to sever relations.”
Matuzov predicted that the Soviet Union and Israel would within a month settle some of the problems that have cropped up since the resumption of consular relations.
Among the issues yet to be resolved are the size of each country’s consular delegations and what buildings they would occupy, the Israeli official said.
Matuzov also acknowledged Soviet-Israeli economic relations are growing at a faster pace than their political relations. He cited the growing number of housing, agriculture and other accords being worked out between the two nations.