Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jews and Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jews and Israel

Article excerpt


Attempt to Divert Immigrants to Israel Divides U.S. Jews

Last fall, the president of the American Zionist Movement, Seymour Reich, raised eyebrows among American Jewish leaders by suggesting that the United States tighten restrictions on the immigration of Jews from Russia and the former Soviet republics.

Now that neo-fascist Vladimir Zhirinovsky has emerged as a major power in the Russian parliament, Reich's position has even less support in the Jewish community. The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, the Jewish weekly Forward reports, said that, on the contrary, expansion of quotas for Russian Jewish immigrants should get close consideration. Forward reported that Jewish groups have held urgent meetings on the matter and called on President Clinton to give Russian anti-Semitism priority at his January meeting in Moscow with President Boris Yeltsin.

Reich made his remarks after Yeltsin's earlier victory over hard-liners. He said that Yeltsin's dissolution of the old parliament meant Russian Jews were no longer victims of persecution, adding that if they immigrate into the U.S. they will be "taking places that might otherwise go to Bosnian victims of `ethnic cleansing' and other deserving refugees." The remarks were criticized by Jews in Russia.

Russian Jews have preferred to immigrate to the United States rather than Israel, which has tried strenuously to encourage them to move there. Since there are quotas on the total number of Russians who may move to the United States, many Russian Jews have chosen to remain in Russia rather than go to Israel. Immigration to Israel has dropped dramatically during the past couple of years.

Despite the fact that his father was Jewish, that he once belonged to a Russian Jewish organization, and that he once sought an Israeli visa, Zhirinovsky has made statements that have been regarded as anti-Semitic. For example, he has complained about Jewish control of the media and culture in Russia.

For American Jewish organizations, the ascendancy of Zhirinovsky casts a new unflattering light on Reich's statement. The Anti-Defamation League and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry are among the groups calling for a close monitoring of the situation in Russia.

Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said, "This is a clear message to State and the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] that the situation is far too unstable for us to restrict asylum now," according to Forward. She added that the State Department has been too sanguine about the Jewish situation in Russia. But an ADL spokeswoman attempted to keep matters in perspective. "This man [Zhirinovsky] is not running the country, but we think he could be a threat if he were to gain power," said Myrna Shinbaum. "At this point, it doesn't call for a change in American policy." Zhirinovsky has said he intends to run for the presidency, which has new powers under the recently adopted constitution.

Dissent Over Israel-PLO Pact

The election of hawkish Morton Klein as president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) portends a rift in the nearly unanimous support among American Jewish organizations for the peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Forward described the convention, at which Klein defeated incumbent James Schiller for the leadership post, as "one of the group's most raucous and emotional national conventions ever. …

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