MELBOURNE (Oct. 7)
A group of prominent Soviet refuseniks have sent a personal appeal to Prime Minister Bob Hawke to continue his support for their efforts to leave the Soviet Union for Israel, particularly when he makes his official visit to Moscow scheduled for late November or early December.
But Prof. Aleksander Lerner, doyen of the Moscow refuseniks, who signed the letter on behalf of nine others who have been waiting 10-15 years or longer for permission to emigrate, seems at the moment to have good reason to hope that by the time Hawke arrives in Moscow, accompanied by his wife, Hazel Hawke, all or most of them will have their visas and may, in fact, be in Israel.
Those hopes were kindled by the report of Isi Leibler, an Australian Jewish leader who returned from a visit to Moscow last week. He said he was advised by senior Soviet officials that the Citizenship Commission of the Supreme Soviet has recommended positive action on all appeals it receives from applicants for exit visas.
Leibler said the numbers affected varied according to different officials from “a couple of dozen” to “in the tens, perhaps as many as 100.” He said he was unable to explain the discrepancies but suggested the lower figures referred to heads of families while the higher numbers may include all family members.
According to Leibler, there are reasonable hopes that the information he was given is reliable. Leibler, who is chairman of the Australian Institute of Jewish Affairs and president of the Asia-Pacific Region of the World Jewish Congress, went to Moscow as the official guest of the Moscow Synagogue for Rosh Hashanah.
The Soviet officials who informed him of the recommendations to the Supreme Soviet were Yuri Reshatov, Deputy Director of the Soviet Foreign Ministry’s Humanitarian Affairs Department, Oleg Avramenko, Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department, and Rudolf Kuznetsov, head of OVIR, the Interior Ministry’s visa department.
Leibler said he was most encouraged by his meeting with Reshatov, who advised him of three developments. The first was an assurance that within a matter of days, a leading long-time refusenik whose name has been raised constantly in negotiations between the U.S. and the USSR would be permitted to leave.
Although Reshatov would not disclose the name, he was obviously referring to Ida Nudel, who was advised only last Friday that she would receive a visa to go to Israel.
The second assurance was that the Citizenship Commission’s recommendations were awaiting ratification by the Supreme Soviet later this week and that no objections were expected. Since April, the Supreme Soviet has designated the commission as an appeals tribunal to which visa applicants rejected through normal bureaucratic channels could appeal for review. “In the circumstances, I am hopeful that the second assurance will prove equally accurate,” Leibler said.
ISSUE OF LONG-TIME REFUSENIKS
But it was the third reference to the prospects of long-time refuseniks which will prove to be the critical test of the assurances Soviet leaders have given to a number of Jewish leaders and Western officials in recent months, Leibler said.
When asked whether the problem of the refuseniks who have been waiting for 10 years or longer would be solved positively, Reshatov replied that he did not expect “it would continue to be a problem after that.”
Leibler noted that Reshatov spoke to him shortly after his return from Washington where he met with Richard Schifter, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights. Leibler said Reshatov referred to that meeting, noting that the joint communique issued after talks between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze last month indicated “constructive progress” in the human rights area.
Reshatov said he believed this was an indication that the U.S. now believes genuine efforts are under way in the Soviet Union to deal with the specific problems of long-term refuseniks as well as the more general issue of Jewish emigration, Leibler reported.
Nevertheless, Leibler stressed that “The mood of glasnost (openness) in Moscow had to be measured against the realities facing many of the refuseniks themselves.” He said he met in Moscow with Lerner, Iosif Begun, Vladimir Slepak and others. They shared his assessment that, in light of the probable summit meeting between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan later this year, their prospects for receiving exit visas were better than at any time in recent years, Leibler said.