Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Why Palestinians Object to Soviet Jewish Immigration to Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Why Palestinians Object to Soviet Jewish Immigration to Israel

Article excerpt

As a result of perestroika, we have witnessed the effects of a major change in the Soviet Union's emigration policy, allowing Soviet Jews to leave their country in record numbers. A recent report in The Wall Street Journal indicates that over one million people have requested exit visas so far.

In the past, 80 percent of all Soviet Jews who obtained visas to immigrate to Israel ended up in the US. But on Oct. 1, 1989, the Bush administration placed an annual quota of 40,000 on visas for Soviet immigrants, meaning that the doors of the US were closed to hundreds and thousands of Jews seeking refuge. As an executive board member of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), I traveled to the Soviet Union May 11 to 21 to meet with Soviet Jews. We visited the Central Synagogue in Moscow and met with Jewish groups there and in Kiev. We also paid our respects to the Jewish victims of Nazi executions at Babi Yar. Everywhere we tried to build a constructive dialogue with each other.

America's Moral Obligation

In our meetings, Soviet Jews voiced indignation at President Bush's decision to restrict them from entering the US. They felt that the American government, one of the strongest proponents of Soviet Jewish emigration for over a decade, had the moral obligation to admit them.

A lot has been written in the Western media about the threat of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, but the truth is that all other minorities there have the same problems. The whole society is confronting the danger of having to deal with a cross-current of nationalism that has stirred up the old rivalries. Jews, like everyone, are worried about the political uncertainities.

Dr. Tankred Golenpolsky, editor of a well-known Jewish newspaper, told us that anti-Semitism does not constitute a clear and present danger in the Soviet Union at this time. He said he has not heard of a single incident in which people were harassed or beaten up because they were Jews. There have been no Kristallnachts, to be sure. Yet Jews all know that it is there and are afraid of what may come in the future. They are fearful of a democratized Soviet Union even though they all concede that glastnost has been responsible for a revival of Jewish culture and religious expression.

The synagogue in Moscow today is a focal point for Jews to worship, socialize and steep their children in an ancient culture that flourished for hundreds of years. Young Jews, some of whom only recently discovered an identity hidden from them by their parents, are actively trying to revive a rich heritage all but snuffed out by the Nazis and later by Stalin. Rabbi Shlomo Shteingart, of the Central Synagogue in Moscow, told us that it would be tragic for the Soviet Jews if, after surviving all the horrors of Stalin, the Jews of Russia were to be chased out by democracy.

Israeli Envoys Encourage Emigration

And yet, the call for them to get out is loud and clear. Almost every week, Israel sends envoys to Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev urging Jews to leave and offering to pay for their airlift to Israel. They are promised jobs and housing, even though the unemployment rate in Israel today is 10 percent and the housing shortage is severe. They are told there are no serious problems between Israelis and Arabs and that everything they read in the Soviet press about an uprising in the West Bank and Gaza is propaganda. …

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