SOVIET UNION: Ransom for Soviet Jews?

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In Moscow and other Soviet cities with large Jewish communities, the education tax has created a mood of hopelessness and panic, compounded by the arrest of about 50 Jewish leaders and a spate of anti-Semitic articles in the Soviet press. The hopes inspired by the departure of 40,000 Soviet Jews for Israel in the past three years have been replaced by fear that the exodus will now come to a virtual halt. Nearly half a million Russian Jews may be stranded without jobs, since they are usually fired when they apply to leave the country. While the Israeli government knows of only 80,000 Jews still seeking visas, Jewish leaders in Moscow believe that the figure is closer to 130,000 applications for entire families, bringing the total to some 450,000 people. Desperate applicants for exit permits are being told by Soviet officials: "Get your 'relatives' abroad to pay your education fees." If their levies, which cost 35% more when paid in dollars, are met in the West, it could cost the world Jewish community well over $500 million.

International Jewish leaders, meeting in emergency session in London earlier this month, unanimously refused to pay a penny of ransom, rejecting "the right of any government to turn people into chattels that can be bought and sold." The Israeli Parliament called the levies "an insult to humanity." In Russia, too, Jewish leaders are determined that no ransom shall be paid, hoping that U.S. trade boycotts of the U.S.S.R. will instead persuade the Kremlin to rescind the decree.

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