WASHINGTON (Nov. 19)
The U.S. policy limiting the number of Soviet Jews who can enter the United States as refugees is endangering Jews facing growing anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews warns.
“We must continue to challenge our own country’s Soviet refugee policy, established in 1989 on the principle that it was safe for Jews to wait in their homes to be processed to the U.S.,” said Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils.
“The immigration numbers tells us that Soviet Jews believe the time to leave is now and they know there is no one to protect them if they wait.”
Prior to 1989, Soviet Jews who left the Soviet Union with visas for Israel but decided to change their destination before reaching Israel were eligible for refugee status in the United States. Now, however, those seeking refugee status must apply in Moscow. But only 50,000 Soviet Jews will be allowed to enter the United States this year.
Cohen, who spoke at a Union of Councils public policy symposium Monday, said that in the long run Israel will be able to absorb all Soviet Jews who go there.
But many Soviet Jews who believe they will not be able to survive economically there have decided to delay their departure, she said.
“We fear deeply for those who may opt to choose to remain or delay, as we would have feared for half of Germany’s Jews– who waited and were caught behind closed borders” in the 1930s, Cohen said.
At the same time, she stressed that Jews must play a part in the development of democracy in the Soviet republics.
“If Jews aren’t protected and empowered as full citizens in the republics, democracy has not the dimmest of hope,” she said. “There will not then be rights guaranteed to other minorities.”
In a speech to a Union of Councils awards dinner Sunday night, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asserted that rising anti-Semitism and other hatemongering in the Soviet Union and the former East European Communist countries should not be fought by restricting freedom of speech and assembly.
“But leaders at every level of government should openly and loudly condemn such attitudes, and actively promote tolerance, mutual understanding and equal rights,” he said, adding that “criminal acts that result from intolerance must be prosecuted.”
Hoyer, along with Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), is co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords.
Hoyer said they have introduced legislation requiring the president to keep Congress informed about human rights in each Soviet republic, as was done up to now with the Soviet Union.