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Syrian Envoy Tells Jackson Jews Are Still Free to Leave

Syria’s ambassador to the United States has told the Rev. Jesse Jackson that Syrian Jews remain free to leave the country, despite reports that no new travel visas have been issued for the past few months.

In a letter to Jackson, Ambassador Walid al-Moualem stated that “the Syrian government’s decision of April 1992 to allow Syrian Jews to travel still stands.”

The Dec. 22 letter was sent a day after Jackson met with the ambassador, in an effort to reverse the apparent halt in visas being given to Syrian Jews.

Activists for the Syrian Jewish community say that no new visas have been issued to Jews since October, although those already holding visas have been allowed to travel abroad unhindered.

Syria first began issuing the visas in April, when the government put aside a decades-old policy of holding its 4,000 Jews hostage. Since then, 2,600 Jews have used their visas, generally traveling to Brooklyn’s large Syrian community.

Roughly 1,400 Jews remain in Syria, of whom 400 do not intend to leave.

The ambassador’s denial of a change in policy is consistent with statements made to American and Israeli officials who had raised their concern over the visa halt to Syrian officials in Damascus and in Washington.

Some observers say that the Syrian refusal to acknowledge any policy reversal will make it easier for them to change their policy once again. They believe the Syrians are holding up the Jewish visas in an effort to extract further diplomatic gains from the incoming Clinton administration.

Jackson’s representation to the Syrians, made at the behest of Isi Leibler, co- chairman of the World Jewish Congress, comes as the civil rights leader and shadow senator from the District of Columbia pursues a hectic schedule of bridge-building with the Jewish community.

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