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Soviet Jews Express Concern Over Lack Of Immigration

June 16, 1988

TEL AVIV (AP) _ More than 700 Jews who emigrated from the Soviet Union gathered for an emotional reunion that was tinged by a concern that many of their compatriots are choosing not to come to Israel.

The reunion in Tel Aviv marked the 18th anniversary of an unsuccessful attempt by a Lenigrad Zionist group to hijack a Soviet plane to Israel. The attempt was foiled by authorities before the passengers even boarded the plane.

In Jerusalem, Soviet film director Eldar Ryazanov, visiting Israel on a trip that would have been unfathomable several years ago, told about 1,000 Soviet Jewish immigrants that ″freedom to travel, to move, is as natural as the freedom to breathe.″

Ryazanov, who is in Israel screening his latest film for Soviet Jewish immigrants, praised Mikhail S. Gorbachev as ″the most humane leader″ his country has had in decades.

He also said ties between Israel and the Soviet Union, severed by the Kremlin in 1967, should be renewed. His remarks won applause from the Jerusalem Theater audience.

At the Tel Aviv meeting Wednesday night, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that fervor to emigrate among Soviet Jews in the 1970s left him feeling something close to nostalgia.

″No one asked where these people wanted to fly to ... everyone knew they wanted to come to Israel,″ Shamir said.

More than 90 percent of the Jews who left the Soviet Union last month did not come to Israel.

Hillel Butman, 55, who was jailed for nine years for his role in the hijacking, put much of the blame for the high dropout rate on the immigrants themselves.

″There is still a lot of Soviet propoganda and lies about Israel, but the worst is letters from relatives here who write only about the bad, not the good,″ Butman said.

The immigrants’ prime complaint about Israel can be explained in one word: jobs. Many of the Russian Jews are highly-educated professionals with specialized training, who have difficulty finding appropriate openings here.

″It’s just impossible to find work,″ said Moshe Liberman, an engineer with a doctorate who immigrated seven months ago after waiting 12 years for an exit visa. ″I could find a job in the United States, or Canada - certainly in South Africa. But we wanted to be here.″

His wife, Chana, a piano teacher who was fired for her Zionist activities in 1981, added, ″When we were refuseniks, I used to tell everyone they must come to Israel, that this is our state and they must be here. But now I don’t know what I would say.″

Recent political developments, especially the six-month Palestinian uprising in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, have discouraged Soviet Jews from coming to Israel, said Ze’ev Green, who settled in the northern port town of Haifa in 1979.

″Soviet propoganda is very effective, and it is very easy these days to take an article from an Israeli newspaper, condense it and make it say that even the Israelis admit they kill all Arabs and have apartheid,″ Green said.

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