Hias Marks Centenary in Israel
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Hias Marks Centenary in Israel

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HIAS is celebrating its centenary by holding its annual “specialists conference” for the first time in Israel. Some 40 HIAS professionals from its offices and operations around the world will take part in closed-door discussions here this week on the refugee outlook in world trouble spots during the 1980s.

The conference is expected to highlight once again the on going rancor between HIAS on the one hand and the Jewish Agency/World Zionist Organization on the other over Soviet Jewish emigrants who do not continue on to Israel. Indeed, it was this issue which dominated a question and answer session here yesterday between local reporters and HIAS president Edwin Shapiro.

Shapiro was careful not to speak antagonistically about the Jewish Agency. On the contrary, he offered lavish praise for the Agency officials working in difficult physical and psychological conditions at the Vienna transit point. But he did speak of “distortions” in the Israeli media reflecting on HIAS’ work and image, and, when pressed, acknowledged that some Israeli and Agency officials had sought to “wash dirty linen in public.”

HIAS considered this tendency “divisive and destructive” for world Jewry and for Israel, Shapiro said. Since he had taken office as president he had fried to ease the tension, Shapiro implied. “We do not seek to lower ourselves, ” he remarked, by engaging in public vituperation instead of healthy and necessary debate over policies.


Shapiro said new proposals regarding arrangements at Vienna would be presented at the forthcoming Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting — but these would certainly not call for the closing of any HIAS facility. There might be some marginal cutback on office staff, but the HIAS service would continue in Vienna.

Shapiro stressed repeatedly that HIAS in its policies and actions was not alone, but was the executive arm of organized American Jewry in the field of refugee work. Policies were laid down by the Jewish leadership as a whole, not by HIAS individually.

Shapiro said HIAS fully subscribed to what he said were Premier Menachem Begin’s own priorities for Soviet emigration: the primary obligation of world Jewry is to get Soviet Jews out in as large numbers as possible; to get as many as possible to go to Israel; and to facilitate family reunion in whichever Western country part of a family is living.

There was a good deal of HIAS-Jewish Agency cooperation regarding Soviet Jewish emigration, much of it unknown publicly, Shapiro said. He said, he hoped for “more excellency” on the part of the Agency in Vienna and more close cooperation in the future. Seven top HIAS leaders will meet with Begin during this week, presumably to review the dropout issue and to discuss other delicate areas in which HIAS and Israel work closely together.

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