Russian Republic Agrees to Launch Direct Flights to Israel for Olim

The government of the Russian republic has agreed to inaugurate direct flights to Israel for Soviet Jewish emigres.

Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, reported the news from Moscow after meeting there with Ivan Silayev, premier of the Russian republic.

Silayev told Dinitz that the flights would be offered by a new airline the republic is presently setting up. But the airline still needs the approval of the Soviet central authorities.

If approved, the new airline also would be able to transport Jewish emigres from other Soviet republics, the Russian premier said.

Silayev also promised to use his influence to help the Jewish Agency obtain full authorization to carry out its operations in the Russian republic. The agency has obtained official permission from both Moscow and Leningrad to open offices in those cities.

Israel has long sought direct flights between Moscow and Tel Aviv to simplify transportation for Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel. Emigres are not permitted on the limited direct flights that now exist and must instead travel to Israel via Budapest, Prague, Bucharest or other European transit points.

The Soviet central government, which does not yet have full diplomatic relations with Israel, has been reluctant to establish direct flights for Israel. But that hesitation is apparently not shared by the new government of the Russian republic, headed by President Boris Yeltsin.

Dinitz also met last week with Yevgeny Vilechkov, deputy premier of the Soviet Union, who reportedly told him that his government regards the activities of the Jewish Agency in the Soviet Union as a “normal development.”

He, too, spoke favorably of direct flights for emigrants.

Yevgeny Levadov, secretary of the Soviet Workers Union, expressed the union’s readiness to assist prospective Soviet Jewish emigres in professional retraining programs, which the Jewish Agency conducts in the Soviet Union with the Soviet Institute for Foreign Trade.

VISA REQUESTS PICKING UP

Speaking at a news conference during the weekend in Moscow, Dinitz said that in his meetings with Soviet Jews, he had learned that their desire to immigrate to Israel had not diminished and that many Jews are waiting for a sign from Israel that conditions there, particularly in the field of employment, will improve.

Dinitz said that during the first week of August, the number of Israeli visa requests had increased. He expressed confidence that the number would continue to increase gradually.

Meanwhile, Dinitz was involved in an unusual flap with members of Chabad, the Lubavitch Hasidic movement. Dinitz objected when a group of Chabad youths visiting Babi Yar refused to join in singing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, at the end of a memorial ceremony at the site where tens of thousands of Jews were massacred during the Holocaust.

In a telephone call from Kiev, Dinitz said he had remonstrated the adult accompanying some 50 boys and girls from the Chabad movement. He complained that they were silent now that they are free to sing the anthem, after decades during which Soviet authorities refused to acknowledge the mass murder of Jews at the site.

Dinitz said the Chabadniks’ main objection to Hatikvah was the phrase “to live as a free people.” He was told, “If that means freedom from religion, then we cannot accept that.”

Dinitz, who met last week with Ukrainian officials in Kiev, was told a menorah-shaped monument to the Jews killed at Babi Yar is to be erected soon.

The Jewish Agency chairman also said the president of the Ukrainian Parliament, Vladimir Garinev, had told him, “With the improving relations between the Ukraine and Israel, Ukrainians should ask to be rehabilitated, given the dark history of their relations with the Jewish people.”

Garinev, who is leader of the opposition in the Parliament, is expected to visit Israel shortly.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY