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Israeli Leaders Speak of Thousands, Even a Million Soviets Emigrating

November 29, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israeli officials are revising upward their estimates of how many Soviet Jews are expected to come to Israel in the next few years, now that the Soviet authorities are about to remove virtually all restrictions on emigration.

The assessments vary from reasonable projections to wishful thinking, but there is a consensus that all the resources of the state and the Jewish Agency for Israel must be mobilized for the huge absorption task ahead.

Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency Executive, addressed the subject at a meeting of the WZO Executive here this week.

He was quoted as saying that between 200,000 and 300,000 Soviet Jews will choose to settle in Israel in the next three years.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that in the last month alone, 45,000 Soviet Jews initiated contact with the Israeli government for the invitations they need to apply for exit visas.

Dinitz told reporters in New York last week that Israel has received more than a million requests from Jews in the USSR for invitations to immigrate.

He said the numbers have increased since the change last month in U.S. policy that no longer grants refugee status to holders of Israeli visas.

Shamir reportedly said half a million Soviet Jews were likely to seek to emigrate in the next two to three years. But he was not clear, in his presentation to the Knesset panel, about how many he expected would come to Israel.


On Tuesday, however, Shamir was certain that up to a million Jews would leave the USSR and that many would come to Israel.

Speaking at the annual Israel Editors Committee luncheon for the prime minister, Shamir said, “According to the simple arithmetic calculations, the number of Jews wishing to leave the Soviet Union will quickly reach a million souls, and a large part of them will come to Israel.”

He said 2,000 have arrived so far in November, and another 1,000 would have come if there had been more transportation available.

Direct flights between Moscow and Tel Aviv are expected to begin in January jointly by El Al and Aeroflot, the Soviet airline.

Dinitz told the WZO Executive that “Israel will welcome with open arms every Jew, even the millionth Jew, even if we have to make do with one egg per week.”

Dinitz said that all units and departments of the Jewish Agency and WZO would have to focus on Soviet Jewry in the years ahead.

“A quarter of the Jewish people is in a state of movement and flux today, and this must mean a special organizational effort on the part of the Jewish Agency,” Dinitz said.

He noted that the Jewish Agency directly covered the cost of bringing olim from the USSR to Israel, and that with current and expected rates of immigration, the money expended on air tickets alone — assuming direct flights — would amount to tens of millions of dollars.

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