JERUSALEM (Aug. 19)
Israeli leaders reacted cautiously to Monday’s coup in the Soviet Union, which appears to have ousted President Mikhail Gorbachev.
The coup, which swiftly toppled a vacationing Gorbachev from power and established in his place a group of hard-line Communists called an “emergency committee,” left in its wake questions about the state of a Middle East peace conference and Soviet Jewish emigration.
Israeli officials expressed hope in public statements, but their private remarks were weighted by uncertainty and foreboding.
More upset than government figures were the thousands of recently arrived Soviet immigrants, who expressed deep fears for the safety and future of family and friends they left behind.
The glum mood among the Israelis contrasted with a sense of glee among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who seemed glad Gorbachev had been overthrown.
They expressed hope that the hard-liners who had ousted him would halt Jewish emigration, support Arab demands to stop Jewish settlement in the administered territories and eventually force the Israelis to withdraw entirely from them.
Varying degrees of support for the rapid Kremlin makeover were also heard from spokesmen in Iraq and Syria and from the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunis.
Israel’s Foreign Minister David Levy said he prayed the Cold War would not be resumed, that Soviet Jews would continue to emigrate and that the peace process would advance no matter who rules in Moscow.
“We are following events in the Soviet Union suspensefully and with concern,” Levy said. “We pray the rapprochement between the Eastern and Western blocs will continue.”
FLIGHTS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE
He hoped that whoever emerged on top at the Kremlin would understand “the significance of keeping the gates open to Jewish emigration.”
The big, unanswered question now is whether the Soviet commitment to a peace conference will continue in the absence of Gorbachev, who agreed with President Bush to host an international peace conference in October.
“Having invested so much effort, the Arabs and Israel must show responsibility at this time of trial,” Levy counseled.
But it was the fate of Soviet aliyah that was uppermost in the mind of Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization Executives.
He had just returned from the Soviet Union, bringing back news of just opened Jewish Agency bureaus in Moscow and Leningrad and word that direct flights had been approved by both Soviet and Russian officials.
Dinitz and senior officials held an emergency meeting Monday to evaluate the new situation and formulate policy. He was visibly relieved when telephone contact was finally established with 60 of the Jewish Agency’s 80 emissaries, scattered in 30 cities in the Soviet Union. Earlier in the day, it had been impossible to reach them.
Arye Levin, Israel’s senior representative in Moscow, told Israel Radio that all Israelis in the Soviet capital were well and that despite a curfew called Monday night, the atmosphere was calm. He said immigrant flights would leave as planned.
But there were ominous signs at the Soviet consular establishment in Tel Aviv, which issues visas three days a week to Israeli tourists and former Soviet citizens.
The office closed after one hour Monday morning, with only seven visas issued. An official, turning away a long line of applicants, said he was following orders from a “higher authority.”
Dinitz said that of the 1 million Soviet Jews who have applied for Israeli invitations to immigrate, about 100,000 had obtained Soviet exit permits and 60,000 of them had entry visas for Israel but have not used them.
He predicted a rush to leave, “because it is an ironclad rule that whenever there is discomfort or disintegration of authority, or a change in the political structure, minorities are usually apprehensive, and Jews among them are the first.”