JERUSALEM (Jul. 1)
Rushing to leave the Soviet Union before new passport regulations went into effect, more than 20,000 Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel in June, the largest number so far this year.
During the last weekend of June alone, about 8,000 Soviet immigrants arrived here on dozens of flights, bringing Soviet aliyah for the month to 20,473.
That is still considerably smaller than last December’s record immigration of around 35,000. But it is a big improvement over Soviet aliyah so far this year, which had been averaging about 16,000 a month.
The June total represents a 28 percent increase over the May figure and brings Soviet Jewish aliyah for the first six months of 1991 to 86,667, according to the Soviet Jewry Research Bureau of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry in New York.
By comparison, 49,575 Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel during the first half of 1990.
Nearly 400 immigrants from other countries arrived in Israel during June, bringing total aliyah to 20,853.
Unlike in prior months, no Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel during June, following the massive Operation Solomon airlift in late May. There are several hundred Jews in Addis Ababa waiting to leave, and as many as 2,000 more in the northern part of the country.
Officials of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which coordinates aliyah, now expect Soviet immigration to drop sharply. New Soviet regulations that went into effect Monday require all Soviets leaving the country to obtain passports.
SOVIET JEWS ‘WEIGHING THEIR OPTIONS’
Top officials of OVIR, the Soviet emigration authority, have promised Israeli officials and American Jewish leaders that Jews with exit permits will get priority in receiving passports.
About 130,000 Soviet Jews now hold exit permits issued by OVIR. Of this number, some 60,000 have also obtained entry visas to Israel from the consulate in Moscow.
“We trust that the Soviet authorities will fulfill their pledge to grant the required documents to Jews departing for Israel in an expeditious manner, and we look forward to hearing in the next few days that the new emigration process is proceeding smoothly,” said a statement issued by Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
But Israeli officials expect that even under optimal conditions, it will take at least several months before the bureaucratic machinery of OVIR can cope with the sudden massive demand for passports.
And senior Jewish Agency officials said there are other factors that could slow Soviet aliyah this year.
Moshe Nativ, director general of the agency, told its annual assembly here last week that Soviet Jews contemplating aliyah are “rationally weighing their options.” They are “carefully planning their steps, choosing when and in what way to make aliyah.
“The feeling that they are running for their lives, which was characteristic of the early period (of the aliyah), is no longer there, at least for now,” said Nativ, who recently visited the USSR.
Information from Israel about “absorption difficulties, and particularly unemployment, resound deeply among Soviet Jews,” he said.
“They are also searching for alternatives, based on rumors that the U.S., Germany and other countries might soon open their doors to Soviet immigrants,” he said.
New business opportunities under perestroika are also persuading some Soviet Jews to stay. Natan Sharansky, head of the Soviet Jewish Zionist Forum, said that about 80 percent of the “new class” of entrepreneurs are Jews.
Baruch Gur, head of the Jewish Agency’s unit for Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, said that on the whole, there is less panic now among Soviet Jews over anti-Semitism and the continuing economic and political instability in the Soviet Union.
In New York, meanwhile, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society reported that 3,204 Soviet Jews immigrated to the United States as refugees in June, a 35 percent jump over the previous month.
The figure, while an improvement, brings refugee admissions for the first nine months of the 1991 fiscal year to only 16,674.
The U.S. government has agreed to pay for up to 40,000 Soviet Jews to come to the United States this fiscal year. But it appears unlikely that anywhere near that number will come by Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends.