Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Soviet Jews, the US and Middle East Peace

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Soviet Jews, the US and Middle East Peace

Article excerpt

European Jews targeted by anti-Semites. Entry to US restricted. Arabs protest Zionist recruitment of Jews for emigration to Palestine. Are we back to the '30s?

It's today, the story of the Soviet Jews, their dreams of America, and their second choice: Israel, aka Palestine, now a land of Jews and also Palestinian Arabs.

Freedom of emigration for Soviet Jews has been a US policy objective for two decades, enacted into law through the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which conditioned Soviet-US trade upon free emigration for those Soviet citizens who held a Jewish (rather than Ukrainian, Georgian, etc.) nationality card. The law was counterproductive: Jewish emigration was further restricted. But free Jewish emigration remained a US objective.

Enter Gorbachev, glasnost, perestroika, and freedom to emigrate for Soviet Jews.

A new question arose: were Soviet Jews still endangered and thus political refugees -- or were they just people seeking a better life in America, like most African, Asian, and Latin American visa applicants? Should there then be a separate quota for Soviet Jews apart from other would-be emigrants from the USSR?

Our government decided finally to straddle the issue by placing a cap on Soviet Jewish immigration of 40,000 per year, and thus also resolved another long-standing dispute. This was between the Israeli government, which in accord with historic Zionist ideology called for all Jews to come to Israel, and the American Jewish establishment, which, having led the fight for Soviet Jewish emigration, felt obliged to welcome all Jewish refugees who prefer to come to our shores. Soviet Jews had previously opted for the US over Israel by nine to one.

Gorbachev's glasnost, however, also revealed an old, seamy side of Russia, anti-Semitism. This, or expectations of it, sparked a new emigration of Jews refused by the US but welcomed by Israel.

Now enter the Palestinians and their Arab supporters -- and memories of a half-century ago. Then, allegedly with the encouragement of Zionist zealots seeking to build a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the United States and many other Western countries closed their doors to most of the European Jewish refugees. …

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