JERUSALEM (Aug. 21)
Israelis were elated Wednesday by reports that the coup by hard-liners in the Soviet Union had failed and that Mikhail Gorbachev had been restored to power as president of the Soviet Union.
But in view of the ongoing instability in the Soviet Union, Israeli leaders urged all Soviet Jews to emigrate and come to Israel as quickly as possible.
Indications that the coup staged by Soviet hard-liners Monday was beginning to unravel first emerged Tuesday, when reports from Moscow said two or three members of the eight-man emergency ruling committee had resigned or taken ill.
By Wednesday morning, the Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers that had taken up positions outside the Russian parliament building and other key sites in Moscow could be seen leaving the capital in a steady stream.
And by early Wednesday afternoon, President Bush announced from his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, that Gorbachev had been restored to power and would be returning to Moscow from his vacation home in the Crimea within the next 24 hours.
Here in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Israelis welcomed that news “from the depth of our hearts.” He said he had “prayed” that the situation in the Soviet Union would not degenerate into violence, “because history shows that in violent times, the Jews suffer.”
Shamir made his remarks in radio interviews and to members of the United Jewish Appeal’s Prime Ministers Mission, presently in Jerusalem.
PEACE CONFERENCE IN DOUBT
He said he was glad he had chosen to withhold public comment about the coup when it occurred Monday, preferring to let events take their course before going on record with an Israeli reaction.
Shamir said it was too early to know whether events in Moscow would affect the Middle East peace conference that the United States and Soviet Union had hoped to convene in October. The prime minister said he hoped “no new obstacles” would appear, but he declined to elaborate.
Non-governmental observers speculated that the uncertain future of Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh might affect the conference schedule.
Bessmertnykh could be ousted because of his ambiguous behavior during the crisis. His claim that illness indisposed him after Communist hardliners attempted to oust President Mikhail Gorbachev was not convincing to many.
Analysts here said Bessmertnykh had sat on the fence to see which side emerged victorious from the Kremlin power struggle before declaring his allegiance.
Israel Radio reported from Moscow that the Russian parliament, which opposed the coup, received hundreds of supportive cables and telephone calls from ordinary Israelis during the three days of crisis.
Earlier Wednesday, before news of the coup’s failure had reached Israel, Housing Minister Ariel Sharon issued an impassioned plea for every Soviet Jew to come to Israel without delay.
“Every Jew should leave everything behind and save his life and be rescued in the one place where Jews have the right to defend themselves: in their homeland, Israel,” the Likud minister told reporters here.
‘ENOUGH ROOM FOR ALL OF THEM’
Prime Minister Shamir later backed Sharon’s call, even when it became clear that the hard-line coup in Moscow had failed. “I feel this is the need of the hour,” he said. “There is no doubt about it.”
Both Shamir and Sharon said Israel is prepared to absorb every Jew in the world, including as many as can come here from the Soviet Union.
“We would like to have here all the Jews from around the world, and there is enough room for all of them,” said Sharon.
Pointing out that at least 60,000 Soviet Jews now hold exit permits and valid visas for entering Israel, Sharon said, “I am calling all Jews in Russia to come to Israel.”
He said his ministry could offer them 29,000 housing units “within a brief span of time.”
Sharon heads the Cabinet committee on immigrant absorption, which is responsible for coordinating the massive aliyah from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia. Its members include the director generals of various ministries concerned with absorption, as well as top officials of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which coordinates immigration to Israel.
The committee met in urgent session Wednesday to discuss the new situation. Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz said a number of decisions were made at the meeting, but he was not at liberty to elaborate.
“The general decision was that we will continue to do everything in our power to facilitate the arrival of as many Jews as possible, in the shortest possible time,” Dinitz said.
NO INTERRUPTION OF EMIGRATION
Immigration from the Soviet Union, which reached 200,000 last year, had leveled off somewhat this year. But now as many as 200,000 more olim than originally anticipated are expected to arrive in Israel by the end of the year because of the coup, sources said.
Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union has continued unimpeded since the crisis in Moscow began on Monday. Yosef Tropiansky, who heads the Jewish Agency’s aliyah team in Moscow, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the Soviet authorities so far have not put any obstacles in the way of emigration.
The Jewish Agency reported Wednesday that some 600 Soviet emigres had arrived here overnight from Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
In New York, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry said Wednesday it had learned that the number of Soviet Jews arriving at such Eastern European transit points had increased since the Moscow crisis began on Monday.
On that day, 278 Jews arrived on flights or by other means of transportation from the Soviet Union, followed by 310 on Tuesday and 575 on Wednesday.
A limited number of Soviet Jews also arrived in the United States, according to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. It said 28 arrived Monday, another 18 came on Tuesday and a flight of 140 was expected Wednesday.
The National Conference reported that offices of OVIR, the Soviet emigration bureau, appeared to be functioning “more or less normally,” and that the Moscow OVIR had issued passports Tuesday to 27 families planning to emigrate.
It said nearly 500 Soviet Jews had shown up at the Israeli Consulate in Moscow on Tuesday, seeking either Israeli entry visas or other consular services.
Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the National Conference, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling news of the reinstatement of the Soviet Union’s constitutional government “a most welcome and satisfying development” following three days of concern about the “welfare and security of the Soviet Jewish minority.”
“We are gratified by the news that throughout the crisis, Soviet Jews continued to emigrate and that those who remained in the USSR were able to maintain their regular religious, cultural and organizational activities.”