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Soviet Jews Leaving Israel, but How Many is in Dispute

Israel’s two top-ranking immigration officials differ sharply over how many Soviet newcomers have left the country, although both base their estimates on the same set of data provided by the Interior Ministry.

According to Uri Gordon, head of the Immigration Department of the Jewish Agency for Israel, 7,000 Soviet olim left Israel in 1991 alone.

But Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz disagrees. He said Wednesday that no more than 500 Soviet immigrant families have departed during the past two years, which is “far from an emigration phenomenon.”

A spokeswoman from the Interior Ministry, Tova Elinson, reported Wednesday that 4,125 Soviet immigrants have been issued laissez-passer travel documents in the last 13 months, and a much smaller number were issued passports.

Immigrants are not eligible for Israeli passports during their first year in the country but are entitled to a laissez-passer papers to go abroad.

All but 1,500 of the immigrants who left with the documents have returned, Elinson said. She said that over 190,000 Soviet immigrants had arrived in the last 13 months.

Meanwhile, the press attache at the South African Embassy here confirmed that about 3,000 immigrants have sought information from the embassy this year about immigrating to South Africa, Ha’aretz reported Thursday.

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