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Vow to Press Efforts for Thousands Still Waiting to Leave : U.S. Jewish Leaders Elated Over Visa for Refusenik

October 03, 1987|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

Jewish activists in the United States said Friday that they were elated by the news that Soviet authorities will allow longtime Jewish refusenik Ida Nudel to emigrate. But they said they were concerned about the fate of thousands of less prominent Jews who have asked to leave the Soviet Union.

"We're delighted, yet we won't stop our advocacy until all those who want to leave can do so," said Marcia Volpert, chairwoman of the Commission on Soviet Jewry for the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council.

"We've been getting mixed signals," said Jerry Strober, a spokesman for the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. "What we'd hope to see is a systematic Soviet treatment of the situation, with sustained and substantial emigration."

Although several Soviet Jews who have long sought to emigrate have been granted permission to leave recently, the number of visas issued has gone down every month since June, Strober said.

Strober said about 380,000 of the estimated 2 million Jews in the Soviet Union have begun the emigration process by asking for an invitation to join relatives in Israel. About 11,000 have been refused at least once, he said.

Nudel, one of the first Soviet Jews to apply to emigrate, had been refused permission to leave since 1971, ostensibly because of classified information that she obtained as an economist planning the cost of chemical factories.

"We hope this means that the arbitrary and capricious use of 'secrecy' to deny emigration will be abrogated in the cases of scores of other Jewish refuseniks," said Morris B. Abram, chairman of the New York-based National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

'A Very Positive Sign'

"Some months ago, we heard from Soviet authorities that Ida would never be granted permission, and the announcement today (Friday) can only be interpreted as a very positive sign for the repatriation to Israel of thousands of other Jews," he said.

Nudel's case became the focus of extra attention after actress Jane Fonda, who is well-known in the Soviet Union because of her protests against the Vietnam War, visited Nudel in 1984 in Bendery, a small city in the remote southwestern corner of the country.

"She (Fonda) couldn't believe it," said Steve Rivers, an aide to the actress who relayed the news to her in Mexico where she is scouting movie locations. "She just screamed. It's something that she's been working on and praying for for seven years."

Activists for the cause of Soviet Jewry also credited Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidential Petroleum Corp., whose contacts with the Soviet leadership go back almost 70 years, for quietly pressing Nudel's case.

"It was certainly great news," Hammer said Friday. "Two weeks ago, on Sunday, I met with Mr. (Eduard A.) Shevardnadze (the Soviet foreign minister) and urged him to see that some action was taken, and I'm glad to see it done."

Marshall B. Grossman, a Los Angeles attorney who visited Nudel together with Fonda, called the refusenik "a remarkably resilient woman" who spent most of her time writing letters to prisoners, to fellow refuseniks and to the Soviet authorities.

"It certainly must be interpreted as a significant gesture by the Soviet government and continuing evidence of at least a change in policy as far as the more prominent refuseniks are concerned," he said.

"What remains a big uncertainty is whether the tens of thousands of other Jews in the Soviet Union who wish to get out will find it easier to do," he said.

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