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Ukraine Challenges Jewish Agency, While Aliyah Drops from Soviet States

A recent dispute between the Ukrainian government and the Jewish Agency for Israel over the Agency’s efforts to encourage aliyah has been resolved, according to officials here.

A statement by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice last month had charged that the Jewish Agency, or Sochnut, went “far beyond its legal mandate” by “stimulating mass departures to Israel,” especially among Ukrainian youth.

The ministry warned that “if such illegal activity continues, the Justice Ministry will raise the issue of more serious measures against the Sochnut, including its dissolution.”

The matter was largely resolved in a meeting here this week between Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yuri Sherbeck and Jewish Agency leaders, including Acting Chairman Yehiel Leket and Baruch Gur, head of the agency’s Department of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Eastern Europe.

Sherbeck told the agency officials essentially to disregard a letter sent to the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel by the former Soviet republic’s deputy justice minister echoing the previous statement, said Gur.

“The ambassador came to the Jewish Agency and met with Mr. Leket and me,” said Gur. “He expressed officially that all the difficulties raised by the letter sent by the deputy minister of justice were on his own private initiative. They did not represent the policy of the Ukrainian government or the president of the republic.

“We have programs that bring youth to Israel without their parents all over the world,” said Gur, referring to a program in Ukraine that had originally caused the stir. “Probably some nationalist had reservations” about the idea, he said, noting that the Jewish Agency had never stopped its activities as a result.

“We think the matter is closed,” Gur said.

The challenge from the Ukrainian government came at a time when immigration to Israel from the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union was down for the first quarter of the year, compared with the same three-month period last year.

According to statistics released by the Jewish Agency, 12,531 immigrants arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union during January through March, as compared to 16,460 during the first quarter of last year.

But ironically, while aliyah from the former Soviet Union is down overall so far this year, it has been on the rise in Ukraine.

There were 3,500 olim from Ukraine this year, up from 2,696 in last year’s first quarter, according to Jewish Agency Director-General Arnon Mantver’s office.

Both Gur and Mantver said this pattern would continue as a result of the economic and political state of crisis in the country.

“The numbers (from Ukraine) could double what they were last year,” said Gur.

With regard to aliyah from the former Soviet Union in general, Jewish Agency officials said they are expecting roughly the same number of immigrants this year as last, despite the slight downturn so far in 1994.

They are anticipating approximately 60,000 new arrivals from the former Soviet Union by the end of this year, as compared to 66,000 in 1993.

Emigration from Russia dropped from 4,766 in the first quarter of last year to 2,230 in the same period this year.

Prospective emigrants are “not in a rush,” but are trying to gauge the unstable political situation and the economic reforms, said Gur.

Gur noted there has also been a temporary slow-down from Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, because there was a severe winter and because there was a shortage of local currency and people could not sell their homes.

They had also heard that a new regulation would allow them to take out unlimited amounts of money and wanted to wait and see whether it would be put into effect, said Gur.

In fact, he said, the new rule is in place, and the numbers arriving in Israel have started to increase as of this month.

Gur noted there was also a “certain slow-down” in emigration from the republic of Georgia because of a new regulation that would have forced emigrants to pay $300 for a passport, which had cost roughly $1. He said the agency successfully fought the increase and the numbers are projected to rise.

Immigration to the United States from the former Soviet Union dropped during the first quarter, as compared to the same period last year.

So far this year, 7,946 Jews arrived in the United States, according to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. In last year’s first quarter the total stood at 9,283.

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