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Soviets Promise New Passport Law Won’t Delay Soviet Jewish Aliyah

A high-level pledge from Moscow that new emigration regulations will not delay the departure of Soviet Jews for Israel has raised hopes here for an upsurge in Soviet aliyah this summer.

The promise was made to senior Israeli representatives in the Soviet capital by the head of OVIR, the Soviet visa authority, according to a report Wednesday in the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz.

Such a pledge would be an unprecedented gesture by the Soviets to a country with which they have yet to restore full diplomatic relations.

Concern was growing in Israel that the reforms designed to overhaul and liberalize Soviet emigration policy would put a brake on aliyah rather than facilitate it.

According to the new regulations, which go into effect July 1, anyone can leave the Soviet Union but must have a passport.

Israeli officials feared that the sheer volume of applications would bog down the already overtaxed Soviet bureaucracy, forcing potential olim to wait months or even years for the required documents.

But the head of OVIR said the passport requirement would be waived in the case of Jews already holding Israeli visas. Approximately 60,000 persons known to be in that category are waiting until the end of the school year to emigrate.

The mere application for a passport will suffice to permit their departure, the Soviet official said.

KNESSET MEMBER IS SUSPICIOUS

In addition, according to Ha’aretz, the Soviets promised that citizens holding exit permits but who do not yet have Israeli visas would be given priority in the processing of their emigration.

Some 110,000 Jews fall into that category, official sources cited by the newspaper said.

But a powerful Likud Knesset member has expressed skepticism about the Soviet pledge and is urging Jews to leave the Soviet Union immediately, before the new passport law takes effect.

Michael Kleiner, chairman of the Knesset Aliyah Committee, warned against a false sense of security among Jews planning to emigrate.

When the new regulations take effect, the Soviet promises may be hard to implement, facing would-be olim with long, frustrating delays, he said.

“If I were an outside observer, I might conclude that this is a collusion by Israel and the Soviet Union to regulate the pace of aliyah,” he added.

Criticism of a different sort was voiced by Alexei Chestakov, the Soviet consul general in Israel, who spoke to reporters in Haifa. He said Israeli fears and dire predictions about the effects of the new passport law are “obsessive.”

The law is designed to sweep away previous rules under which people who emigrated from the Soviet Union automatically forfeited their citizenship, he said.

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