BONN (Apr. 8)
The German government, trying gently to persuade some 300 Soviet Jews who came to Berlin from Israel in January to return there, may have scored a small success.
About 30 of them seem ready to board flights to Tel Aviv. But the other 270 adamantly refuse to go back to Israel, a country for which they express profound dislike.
They came to Berlin originally, they said, to take refuge from Iraqi Scud missiles, which began falling on Israel on Jan. 18.
The German authorities, who insist they will not expel the “refugees,” are making it clear, nevertheless, that their status is temporary.
Dieter Heckelmann, the Berlin official responsible for refugees, said Sunday that the Jews could remain as Israeli tourists until their fate is decided by Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Israeli officials have warned the Germans not to set a precedent by recognizing Israeli citizens as refugees.
The Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel last year and hold Israeli passports or other travel documents. They are Israeli citizens, and Israeli consular officials here are furious with them.
The Israelis seem most sensitive to allegations in the media by some of the expatriates that Soviet Jews coming to Israel are forced to settle in the administered territories.
That would be a violation of Israel’s promise to the United States in return for U.S. financial help to absorb immigrants.
The charge is a malicious lie, according to statements issued by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and the Israeli Embassy in Bonn.
Israeli officials had an angry confrontation with the Soviet Jews at the consulate here last week. Asked to produce their Israeli identity cards, the Soviet Jews refused, saying they did not feel themselves Israelis even if they were registered as citizens of Israel.
The emigres were upbraided for their complaints about conditions in Israel. Some said they accepted Israeli citizenship unwillingly, only as a means of getting out of the Soviet Union.
The group has already hired several Berlin lawyers sympathetic to their situation to represent them. They say they like Germany and want to remain here.
The Germans said they would help the Jews if they insist on staying in the country.
But Berlin officials said the city is incapable of providing temporary housing for refugees, let alone “for tourists from other countries.”
That allusion to their temporary status may have convinced a few to go back to Israel.