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Shamir Tells Delegates at CJF Assembly to Back Resettlement of Soviet Jews

November 20, 1989
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Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir made an impassioned plea for Jewish unity Thursday night, in an attempt to rally American Jews behind his government’s $2 billion program to resettle the flood of Soviet Jews already pouring into Israel.

He indicated that Israel may also soon face the challenge of resettling thousands more Jews from Ethiopia, who may be allowed to leave in greater numbers in the wake of that country’s resumption of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state earlier this month.

“By historic coincidence, the opening of the gates of the Soviet Union may be followed with the end of the tragedy of Ethiopian Jewry,” Shamir told the 58th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, which met here Wednesday through Sunday.

“We are looking forward to the understanding and cooperation of the Ethiopian government in reuniting Jews who remained in Ethiopia with their families,” he said, pointing out that there has been “an increase in the number of Jews reaching Israel” since ties were re-established Nov. 3.

“Anyone who sees the planeloads of Jews arriving in Israel from the Soviet Union, or the groups of frail and tired Ethiopian Jews kissing the soil of Eretz Yisrael, cannot but be overcome with emotion and excitement.


“We are truly living in a prophetic period,” he said, quoting a passage from the Book of Isaiah about the return of the Jewish exiles to the land of Israel.

Shamir urged his listeners, who represent the cream of the American Jewish philanthropic community, to understand the historic nature of the exodus and to respond accordingly.

“My friends, such an opportunity occurs once in a generation,” he said.

“We must grasp it. We must not lose it through inaction, debates on technicalities or indifference.”

Such discussions, in fact, have dominated the proceedings of this year’s General Assembly, to the same extent that the “Who Is a Jew” controversy superseded every other issue at last year’s G.A. in New Orleans.

In fact, CJF devoted an entire day of its program Thursday to plenaries, forums and workshops on the Soviet Jewry resettlement issue.

Sessions ranged from an exploration of the changes under way inside the Soviet Union to “nuts and bolts” workshops on such issues as finding jobs for tens of thousands of Soviet Jews settling in this country.

There were also strategy sessions on how to mount campaigns in local communities to raise the millions of dollars needed to fund resettlement of Soviet Jews both in the United States and Israel.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is asking the United Jewish Appeal to raise $350 million over the next five years, exclusively for the resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel.

That campaign, which has not yet been formally launched, comes on the heels of UJA’s difficult “Passage to Freedom” drive this year, which after eight months has raised $44.59 million toward its $75 million goal and only collected $15.8 million in cash.

Even if local federations are able to mount the dramatic campaign UJA is requesting, it will not fund the rising costs of resettling the thousands of Soviet Jews still pouring into the United States.

While a higher percentage of Soviet Jews is expected to immigrate to Israel in the coming months, close to 50,000 are expected to arrive in the United States in the next year.

Recognizing that, CJF has now established a blue-ribbon panel to examine the magnitude of resources that will be needed to fund both the absorption of Soviet immigrants in Israel and the resettlement of those who come to the United States.

In his speech, Shamir spoke of the urgency with which such efforts must be made.

“We must act quickly,” he said. “Experience has taught us that, when dealing with the Soviet Union, no one knows what tomorrow might bring.”

While dwelling on the present and the future, the prime minister also took a few moments to look back and praise the Soviet Jewry emigration movement for making the wave of migration possible.

And he thanked former President Ronald Reagan and his secretary of state, George Shultz, “who made a point of raising the Soviet Jewry issue at the beginning of every meeting with Soviet leaders.”

Shamir met here for 20 minutes Thursday evening with the former president, who was in Cincinnati to address the local Bankers Club.

Asked by a reporter afterward if he had requested Reagan’s assistance in the peace process, the prime minister nodded and said, “Yes.”

Shamir discussed the peace process in broad terms during his address to the General Assembly.

While he reiterated his familiar ironclad refusal to deal in any way with the Palestine Liberation Organization, he also attempted to mitigate the perception of his intransigence with prophetic citations and lofty statements of intent.

“We have never abandoned our hope for peace,” he said, adding somewhat cryptically that his government has made “a long list of attempts — some of them secret, which will become public one day — to break through the wall of enmity and open a process of peace.”

But while he pledged that his government would “leave no stone unturned, no opportunity untouched in our quest for peace,” he asserted, “We will not be pressured into committing national suicide.”

“If the history of this century has taught us one thing,” he said, “it is that peace without security is no peace at all.”

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