"Freedom of choice": Israeli efforts to prevent Soviet Jewish émigrés to resettle in the United States

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2 Scopus citations


Beginning in 1967 the Soviet Union allowed some Jewish citizens to leave for family reunification in Israel (see Appendix). Due to the break in diplomatic relations between Israel and the U.S.S.R., most émigrés traveled to Vienna where they were then flown to Israel. After 1976 the majority of émigrés who left on visas for Israel "dropped out" in Vienna and chose to resettle in the West. Several American Jewish organizations facilitated their obtaining visas and being resettled in the United States and other countries. This article examines efforts by Israel to deny Soviet Jewish émigrés the option of resettling in the United States. Israeli officials pressured American Jewish organizations to desist from aiding Russian Jews who wanted to resettle in the United States. Initially American Jews resisted Israeli efforts. Following Gorbachev's decision in the late 1980s to allow free emigration for Soviet Jews, the American Jewish community agreed to a quota on Soviet Jewish refugees in the United States, which resulted in most Soviet Jewish émigrés to Israel. The article uses the case study to explore efforts by American Jews and Israel to influence American refugee policy in the 1970s and 1980s. It provides insights into ethnic politics as well as "sponsored politics," whereby Israel used the American Jewish community to further its interests in the making of United States foreign policy. It also deals with the issue of human rights and migration. While no migrant has the right to go to a country of his or her choice, Israel did deny some émigrés the right to exercise freedom of movement to other countries who welcomed them as refugees.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-412
Number of pages26
JournalReview of Policy Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Public Administration
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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