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U.S. Must Sever Its ‘immoral Link’ on Loan Guarantees, Says Sharansky

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The White House and Congress should sever their “immoral link” between Israel’s request for U.S. loan guarantees and developments in the Middle East peace process, former Soviet prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky told a group of American Christian leaders here this week.

“Israel is not asking for an American handout, but for the opportunity to borrow money from international banks to house and create suitable jobs” for Jews continuing to immigrate here from what was formerly the Soviet Union, said Sharansky, who heads what is now called the Zionist Forum of Former Soviet Jews.

A refusal to provide guarantees for $10 billion in loans sought be Israel “would be tragic and harmful to both the peace and the immigrant absorption processes,” he said.

Sharansky said that as many as 2 million Jews could settle in Israel following the Soviet Union’s disintegration and deepening economic hardships in the 15 newly independent republics.

Increasing food shortages there will likely aggravate social tensions, and food riots leading to pogroms against Jews are conceivable, he said.

The one-time prisoner of the Soviet Gulag spoke Monday night to 21 American leaders of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, which was holding its weeklong quarterly board meeting in Israel for the first time.

The group issued a statement Tuesday morning strongly endorsing the Israel government’s request for the loan guarantees, noting that the money would be used for humanitarian purposes.

‘SADDENED’ BY AMERICAN DELAY

“We are saddened that our U.S. government still delays affording this needed endorsement for our only democratic ally in the Middle East due to political reasons,” the statement said. It called on the government to honor the commitment made “to these oppressed peoples when we encouraged and supported their release” from the USSR.

The statement was signed by Sister Rose Thering of Philadelphia, the group’s executive director, and Dr. David Lewis of Springfield, Mo., chairman of its board.

The Christian leaders were in Israel to express their solidarity with the Jewish people. They met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Knesset Member Ze’ev (Benny) Begin and numerous Israeli officials.

“We came to strengthen our Israeli friends and let them know we represent millions of Christians concerned about Israel’s security,” Lewis told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The group, representing leaders of 35 Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical denominations in the United States, was the guest of the Inter-religious Coordinating Council in Israel, a network of 30 Israeli organizations.

Lewis said the group’s membership would telephone and write to the White House expressing support for the loan guarantees.

“We shall do everything we can to influence our politicians to support legislation approving American loan guarantees to Israel,” said Lewis.

“The American public doesn’t fully understand that this is not foreign aid, but a business deal with a very fine partner who has shown an impeccable past history in repaying loans.”

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