JERUSALEM (Jun. 18)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said this week that chances seem to be improving for the emigration of the estimated 4,000 Jews in Syria.
He told a group of Israeli activists that he makes a point of mentioning their plight in every conversation he has with foreign diplomats.
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who met with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus last month, is credited with convincing the Syrian authorities to allow a small number of young Jewish women to leave the country.
But while there are signs that restrictions on Syrian Jews, including denial of emigration rights, have eased somewhat, a group of Syrian Jewry activists says conditions are as bad as ever.
The Organization of Syrian Jews in Israel is mounting a public campaign on their behalf.
According to that group, the Jews of Damascus are subjected to constant harassment and worse. Their homes and property are seized and sometimes turned over by the authorities to Palestinian groups. They are under incessant, intrusive police surveillance, and instances of arrest and torture are not rare.
Spokesmen for the organization say 40 years of official silence by Israel have proved ineffective, and the time has come to speak out.
On the other hand, Israel Television this month screened a film by an American-Jewish journalist set in the Jewish quarter of Damascus.
It showed an apparently active synagogue life and Jewish goldsmiths pursuing their craft.
The film contained little spontaneous dialogue. But the fact that it was made at all indicated some easing of restrictions by Syria.