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Echoing Shamir, Israeli Cabinet Urges U.S. to Drop Special Refugee Status for Soviet Jewish Emigres

February 23, 1987
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The Israeli Cabinet Sunday called on the United States to abolish political refugee status for Jews leaving the Soviet Union on grounds that there can be no such status for any Jew since the founding of Israel.

The call, presented by Acting Premier Shimon Peres and adopted unanimously as a resolution of the government, was timed, according to observers, to coincide with meetings here this week of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) and the Jewish Agency Board of Governors. Both are key diaspora bodies whose funding efforts and political influence are critical in the struggle for Soviet Jews.

It also coincided with signs of possible dramatic new openness inside the Soviet Union, giving rise to hope here that the trickle of Jewish emigration in recent years may soon swell to substantial numbers. The release from prison Friday of long-time refusenik and dissident Iosif Begun has fueled those hopes.

The statement said, “The government of Israel believes that the status of refugee accorded today to Soviet Jewish emigrants whose declared destination is Israel should be abolished… From the day the State of Israel was established and its gates opened to all Jews, there is no more validity to the term Jewish refugee…”


The statement bolstered the efforts of Premier Yitzhak Shamir, currently visiting the United States, to persuade the U.S. Administration to no longer grant the special refugee status to Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union which enables them to go to the U.S. instead of to Israel. Shamir apparently made little headway in that regard in his talks with President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz last week. The Administration stressed that the U.S. supports “freedom of choice.”

The Cabinet addressed that argument, noting that its statement “does not imply any attempt to prevent any person from choosing where to live.” But that decision ought to be made only after the immigrants have reached Israel, which is the destination on their exit documents from the Soviet Union, the Ministers said. Once in Israel, they could proceed elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the statement is expected to renew the long, often angry debate between Israelis and some sections of the American Jewish leadership who advocate not only freedom of choice, but the right of emigrants to choose their country of settlement without being required to go to Israel first.

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