The Struggle for Soviet Jewry in American Politics: Israel versus the American Jewish Establishment

By Reimers, David M. | Shofar, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Struggle for Soviet Jewry in American Politics: Israel versus the American Jewish Establishment


Reimers, David M., Shofar


The Struggle for Soviet Jewry in American Politics: Israel Versus the American Jewish Establishment, by Fred A. Lazin. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005. 356 pp. $34.95.

Fred A. Lazin has written an interesting and informative account of how both the United States and Israel responded to the issue of Soviet immigrant Jews. It is a detailed book based on extraordinary research into the archives. This is a story of how Israel dealt with the possibility of receiving Soviet Jews, and in doing so not only had to face the twists and turns of Russian policy but also had to work with American Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations, which he calls the American Jewish Establishment. The potential Soviet immigrants had several possible destinations and also became part of the politics of the Near East, but the book focuses mainly on how the American Jewish Establishment and Israelis managed to forge a policy of compromise. The interests of the American Jews and the Israeli government were not always the same, and Lazin informs us in exacting deal of the various conflicts between the two and how they were forced to develop a policy acceptable to each. Eventually a compromise, formalized in the Lautenberg Amendment during the Gorbachev era, was reached that permitted a quota of Jews to come to America, either as persons entitled to refugee status or as independent immigrants with family ties in the United States.

The Soviets' willingness to permit Jews to leave presented Israel with a potential flow of new immigrants. The Israelis wanted the Soviets to locate in Israel and were willing to offer them incentives for settlement. But what if Soviets preferred to settle in the United States? Americans Jews certainly knew of the needs of the Israeli government, but the Jewish Establishment also saw the issue in moral terms. With memory of the failure of the United States to accept many Jews during the 1930s, how could American Jews pressure the Russians to go to Israel if the United States was now willing to receive the Soviets? Shouldn't the Soviets be given a choice to pick either the United States or Israel, a choice they did not have during the Holocaust? And shouldn't American Jews speak out and lobby more forcibly than they did in the 1930s when they provided only a meager effort to rescue Jews caught in the Holocaust? One of Lazin's main points is the fact that, unlike the 1930s, American Jews were willing to pressure Congress and the president to accept Jews from the Soviet Union. He does not deal with a transitional period, right after World War II, but before the possibility of receiving these refugees became a reality. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) was the driving force behind the Displaced Persons legislation of 1948 and 1950. To be sure, the AJC worked behind the scenes, but it was nonetheless changing the Establishment's quiet role. Leonard Dinnerstein has told the story of the Displaced Persons in great deal, but his book is not included in the bibliography. …

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