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Israel Rejects Gorbachev Threat, but Statistics Show Issue is Moot

June 5, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir responded defiantly Monday to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s threat to cut off Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union unless Israel guarantees the immigrants will not be settled in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

Speaking in Tel Aviv to the Israel Association of Industrialists, Shamir said Israel would not agree to the creation “of ghettos or pales of settlement, either for olim or for old-timers.” By “pales of settlement,” he meant the areas of Czarist Russia to which Jews were once restricted.

Shamir observed that the Soviet Union itself no longer “tells people where they may or may not live,” and he said that Israel, as a democratic and free society, would certainly not “impose restrictions upon any category of resident.”

But Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, urged the Israeli government to “set aside all other considerations, including ideological considerations” in the interest of getting “as many Jews as possible” out of the Soviet Union “in the shortest possible time.”

Dinitz, whose agency assits the government in bringing immigrants to Israel, pointed out that “regrettably, the key to Soviet aliyah is not in Shamir’s hands, but in Gorbachev’s.”

The Jewish Agency’s longstanding policy, he stressed, has been not to “spend a single cent” of funds raised by the United Jewish Appeal “in settling either new immigrants or veteran Israelis in the territories.”

He suggested the government might do well to adopt the same approach, given the “worrying import” of Gorbachev’s statement.


Gorbachev made his unexpected threat Sunday during a joint news conference with President Bush at the White House, marking the end of their four-day summit meeting.

“As long as there are no assurances from the Israelis” that Soviet Jews will not be settled in the territories, the Kremlin may have to “postpone issuing permits for exit,” Gorbachev said in response to a reporter’s question.

But Dinitz said Monday that “all talk about Soviet Jewish immigrants settling in the territories is totally unfounded.” He said it was “the result of Arab propaganda” whose real objective is “total opposition to any immigration to Israel and to the continued existence of Israel.”

“It is regrettable that President Gorbachev has been misled by Arab propaganda,” the Jewish Agency official added.

“It is clear to all that no one is directing immigrants to any particular area,” Shamir emphasized Monday.

The Government Press Office stressed in an official statement that immigrants are given no special incentive to settle in the West Bank. The amount of assistance granted is determined by family size, not place of settlement, it said.

The press office also released a flood of statistics showing that the number of Soviet immigrants who have settled in the territories is minuscule, in relative terms.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, only 135 out of 18,200 immigrants settled in Israel’s direct absorption program between April 1989 and the beginning of February 1990 went to the territories. That amounts to 0.7 percent.

Another two dozen families moved to the West Bank of their own accord, without assistance, following a period in an immigrant absorption center.

Dinitz said that of the 49,000 Soviet Jews who have arrived in Israel since April 1989, only 285, or 0.5 percent, have chosen to settle in the territories.

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