Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Soviet Jewish Emigration Need Not Derail Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Soviet Jewish Emigration Need Not Derail Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Article excerpt

While the expulsions of hundreds of "nonresident" Palestinians are splitting apart families born in the Israeli-occupied territories, a casual remark by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir reveals he was planning a gala welcome to the same territories for a new wave of Soviet Jews migrating to Israel.

Shamir's remark that a "big Israel" would be needed for Soviet Jewish immigrants was prompted by the US decision to stop admitting Soviet Jews with visas stamped for Israel commencing last October. Following this restriction, and the arrival in Israel of 3,600 Soviet Jews in December, the Israeli government projected that 100,000 Soviet Jews would arrive in Israel over the next three years. Some jubilant Zionists predict that as many as 750,000 of the estimated 2 million Jews in the Soviet Union will immigrate to Israel within the next six years.

Amendment Calls for "Free Choice"

The joy may be short-lived, however, because of an amendment to US immigration policy which was passed into law last November under American Jewish pressure. Some American Jews are unhappy with the forced immigration of Soviet Jews into Israel, when more than 90 percent of them would prefer to come to the US. The General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations meeting in Cincinnati last November passed a resolution stating that immigration "must become the free choice of more and more Soviet Jews."

The November amendment to the US immigration code calls for examination of the cases of Soviet citizens who had been refused refugee visas. Of those re-examined, 99.8 percent have been granted US immigration visas. The US Embassy in Moscow has handed out 200,000 applications to Soviet citizens, few of whom are planning to go to Israel. Since the US quota for Soviet refugees is 50,000 per year, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service reports that 80 percent of the present Soviet refugees are Jews, this means that 40,000 Soviet Jews per year will be diverted from the anticipated immigration to Israel. With the new US criteria for admittance of Soviet refugees in place, there is no foreseeable refugee stampede to Israel.

In spite of allegations of Soviet discrimination, most Soviet Jews have done fairly well under communism, despite onerous religious and cultural restrictions. The Israeli press has noted that a large number of Soviet Jews are engineers, scientists and other professionals.

The spreading political upheaval in the Soviet Union has raised fears about their continued economic security. Because glasnost has been accompanied by deepening economic troubles, including new food shortages, the outlook is for worse times for every Russian, and possible reappearance of age-old national and racial antagonisms that were suppressed but not eliminated under the Russian communist hegemony. This has raised legitimate fears among Soviet Jews that anti-Semitism could again become widespread.

Economic Emigration

It is conceded even by ardent Zionists, however, that the present mass immigration is propelled by economic concerns rather than by feelings of Jewish identity. Although the US has made policy statements to the contrary, the Soviet Jews are considered by most Israelis as economic immigrants rather than as political refugees fleeing persecution. Most of the recent immigrants, themselves, seem to look on Israel as a platform for finding some final destination with easier economic conditions. The impending wave of Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel, if it materializes, comes at a bad time for everyone. The immigration's financial demands strike Israel at a time of almost unprecedented economic crunch. For the Palestinians, the immigration portends a rapid increase in land confiscation and Jewish settlement activity in the occupied territories, and perhaps accelerated "nonresident" deportations under one pretext or another. Americans are being asked for various forms of financial assistance for the resettlement at a time of heavy US government deficits, forced cuts in domestic appropriations and a likely downturn in business activity. …

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