Former Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky and other activists here on behalf of Soviet Jews protested Wednesday that Israeli authorities have failed to condemn a restrictive new Soviet emigration law in the misguided hope of furthering secret contacts with the Kremlin.
The activists made public the text of a letter from a top official of the Israeli Interior Ministry in which he refused to issue symbolic Israeli passports for a Jewish family in the Soviet Union on grounds that to do so would "impair the contacts between Israel and the U.S.S.R. that are at a delicate stage currently."
The independent newspaper Haaretz reported, meanwhile, that Jerusalem and Moscow have been conducting "quiet negotiations in an attempt to normalize their relations."
Met Last August
The paper said the Soviets have expressed a willingness to renew discussions on establishing consular relations between the two countries and on the emigration of Soviet Jews in exchange for Israeli agreement on Soviet participation in the Middle East peace process.
Soviet and Israeli representatives met in Helsinki last August for the first official talks between the two countries in more than 19 years. The discussions were broken off after just 90 minutes in what some analysts interpreted as a show of Soviet displeasure over the Israeli delegation's complaints about the treatment of Soviet Jews.
Then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres met with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze in September, and, according to Haaretz, contacts have since continued "at a senior diplomatic level." Haaretz also said that Israeli ambassadors "in several European capitals" have recently reported growing Soviet interest in improving relations, which were broken off by Moscow during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967.
Former Soviet Jews now in Israel protested Wednesday that Jerusalem is playing into Moscow's hands by softening its position on Soviet Jews for fear of disturbing diplomatic contacts.
Shcharansky Expresses Concern
"It's not the lack of trust in our government but knowledge of the nature of the Soviet system that makes me so concerned," said Shcharansky, who was allowed to leave the Soviet Union last February as part of an East-West prisoner exchange. He had spent nine years in Soviet prisons and camps.
Shcharansky appeared at a press conference called by the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center to demand that the Israeli government condemn new Soviet regulations that the center's spokesman, Yuri Stern, described as "a death sentence for emigration."
The regulations, which are to take effect Jan. 1, formalize a number of restrictions that have been applied arbitrarily, for at least seven years, against Soviet Jews wishing to emigrate.
Shcharansky said that implementation of the rules will mean that "the overwhelming majority" of Soviet Jews who have expressed a desire to emigrate would be barred even from applying to leave.
Differing Views of Law
In some cases, he said, the new rules are even more restrictive than those imposed informally in the past, although Soviet authorities say they constitute a dramatic step toward liberalization of policy. For example, Shcharansky said, the new law prohibits a citizen from emigrating if it is "in the interest of ensuring the preservation of public order, the health or morality of the population."
The chairman of the Soviet Jewry Information Center, Yosef Mendelevitch, said his group called the press conference because the Israeli government has failed to protest the new regulations.
He said the Interior Ministry letter, signed by the director of the Population Administration Department, explains why.
The letter was written in response to a request that the government issue Israeli passports to the family of Boris Chernobylsky, a Jewish activist and former prisoner who has been trying to emigrate since 1976.
In the past, Israel has granted citizenship to about 800 Soviet Jews prevented from leaving the Soviet Union.