Alternative Approaches to Soviet Jewish Emigration: Moral and Practical Dilemmas


Publication Date: November 1979

Publisher: National Jewish Conference Center (U.S.)

Author(s): Steven M. Cohen; Susannah Heschel

Research Area: Culture and religion; Population and demographics

Keywords: World Jews; Immigration; Soviet Jewry

Type: Report

Coverage: United States Israel

Abstract:

Virtually all Jews who left the Soviet Union between 1968 and 1973 elected to become olim, settlers in Israel. After 1973 more and more exiting Jews opted for resettlement in Diaspora countries, usually the United States. By 1976 only one half of the Soviet Jewish emigrants were making aliyah. In 1978 the breakaway percentage rose to 58.0%, and in 1979, a year in which 50,000 Soviet Jews are expected to emigrate, 35,000 will be breakaways, while only 15,000 will make aliyah. This seemingly unabated rise in breakaways represents a growing danger to Israel's survival, to American Jewry, and to the world-wide Soviet Jewry movement. The huge cost and the social problems associated with resettling the immigrants, the de-romanticization of the Soviet Jewry issue, and Israel's need for a new policy now more vocally expressed by her leaders, may well combine to bring about the adoption of an aid cut-off to Soviet Jews not making aliyah. Israel and Diaspora Jewry have solidly grounded reasons why the Soviet Jewish emigration should be brought to Israel.

The question at issue here is whether the cut-off plan is the most appropriate moral and effective means to the broadly desired end. This paper attempts to inform a decision-making process on which debate will reach new levels of intensity in 1980. It discusses why the number of breakaways continues to increase and why they pose such a difficult problem for Israel and world Jewry. The writers attempt to examine the alternative approaches to this problem for their practical and moral implications. Determining both effectiveness and possible negative side-effects of the plans are central concerns. What plan can achieve its objective without doing serious harm to the Soviet Jewry movement, to the political influence of American Jews, and to Israel's image around the world and particularly in the Soviet Union and the United States? Are the cut-off plans practical? Are they in harmony with the fundamental moral teachings of the Jewish tradition and of universal humanitarian ethics? Resisting the cut-off plans must be weighed against the grave dangers posed by the high breakaway rate and against the fact that alternatives will have only a limited impact on the breakaway problem that alternative policies seem to promise.