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Involvement in the Soviet Jewry Movement — by Louis Rosenblum
The Government of Israel — The Elephant in the Room

Early on the Israeli government viewed the ingathering of Jews from behind the Iron Curtain — particularly from the Soviet Union — of vital national interest. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared: “in our policy towards Russia the position of the Russian Jews is the main concern. Of course, three million Jews are involved. We could get one million now, if they were allowed to leave.” [1] In 1952, Ben-Gurion created the nucleus of a special bureau to covertly encourage and facilitate aliya (immigration to Israel) of Jews from the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Not part of the Foreign Ministry and cloaked from public view by strict censorship, the bureau reported directly to the Prime Minister. As the bureau grew it was evasively alluded to as Lishkat Hakesher (לשכת הקשר) Liaison Office or Nativ (נתב) Path (aka, the Office With No Name) From now on termed “the Office”.

David Ben Gurion Shaul Avigur Nehemyah Levanon

To head the Office, Ben-Gurion chose Shaul Avigur, an old associate and confidant. Avigur (Meirov) was born in the Lithuanian city of Dinburg in northwest Russia, in 1899 and made aliya in 1912. He joined the Haganah, the Jewish self-defense force, in 1920, and quickly rose to occupy important security and political positions in the central command. During the 1940’s, Avigur headed two secret organizations, Rekesh, an overseas arms procurement agency and Mossad L’Aliya Bet, an organization that ran "illegal" Jewish immigrants into Palestine. Avigur has been described as reclusive, tough, secretive, work-centered and committed to maintaining the political interests of Mapai (forerunner of Israel’s Labor party) leadership [2].
Avigur retired in December 1969 and was succeeded by Nehemyah Levanon (Nunka Levison), born in Estonia. Levanon had made aliya in 1938 and was among the founders of kibbutz Kfar Blum. In the early 1950's he joined the Office and in 1954 was posted to the Moscow embassy. Less than two years later he was expelled from the USSR, accused of conducting clandestine operations. For details on posting of representatives of the Office,
click here. Next, Levanon was groomed to participate in a project to foster Western involvement in the cause of Soviet Jewry. He learned to speak English and was sent under cover as a shaliach (representative of the Jewish Agency) to England [3]. In 1965, he was posted to the Israeli embassy in Washington and assumed charge of operations in the United States. From 1970 till he retired in 1982, Levanon served as head of the Office.
During the 1950's the Office worked to gather the low hanging fruit behind the Iron Curtain: Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian and Hungarian Jews.
Shtadlanut — one of Avigur’s bedrock operational methods — was employed. By means of secret negotiations and monetary payments about 160,000 Jews were permitted to leave for Israel.
The big prize remained: three million Soviet Jews. To gather in even a small portion of these, the Office would need support — political and monetary — from centers of influence in the West. In 1955, the work of fostering such support started with the transfer to the Office of a publicist from the Foreign Ministry, Binyamin Eliav. His job was to oversee dissemination of information on the Soviet Jewish problem in ways that the source was not revealed
[4]. During 1955 and 1956 efforts were made to bring the Soviet Jewish problem to governments, political parties — especially Western Communist parties — and prominent left-wing figures. As a result of publicizing evidence of anti-Jewish behavior, the Soviets were put on the defensive [5].

Binyamin Eliav Uri Ra’anan Emanuel Litvinoff


Following on this success, key information centers in New York, Paris and London were established in 1957 [6]. In New York, Eliav placed a former Israeli journalist, Uri Ra’anan, in the office of Judd Teller, Secretary of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Eliav set up agents in Europe: in Paris, Meir Rosenne, a member of the Foreign Service, then a doctoral student at the Sorbonne; and in London, Emanuel Litvinoff, a British Jewish novelist and poet. Both operated ostensibly under the auspices of the local World Jewish Congress office. Rosenne initiated the Bibliothèque Juive Contemporaine, which produced publications on Soviet Jewry. Litvinoff initially prepared a bulletin on Soviet Jewry, distributed as a supplement to the Jewish Observer and Middle East Review. Two years later, he moved on to set up European Jewish Publications, which issued a quarterly newsletter, Jews in Eastern Europe, highlighting Soviet anti-Semitism [7].
In 1959, to accelerate activity in the U.S., Eliav based himself in New York as Israeli Consul General together with Ra’anan as Consul. In 1960, they arranged for Moshe Decter, an American left wing, anti-communist writer and editor, to found Jewish Minorities Research [
8]. With this cover organization, Decter was successful for over a decade in engaging support of prominent intellectuals and public figures to participate in conferences, sign petitions and send letters to Soviet leaders protesting the treatment of Soviet Jews. That same year Eliav and Ra’anan attempt to station an American employee in the B’nai B’rith New York office, whose job would be to brief tourists going to the Soviet Union. Apparently, the B’nai Brith demurred. But in a 1970 libel suit in a federal court, a claim was made that the attempt was "to change B'nai B'rith from a charitable and welfare organization into an unregistered agent of the Israeli Government." Click here to read newspaper account. Meir Rosenne — posted as Public Information Officer for the Israeli UN Mission — replaced Eliav and Ra'anan in 1961.

The officials of the American Jewish establishment adopted an ironic euphemism for these determined and demanding Israelis: "our friends." It veiled certain disagreeable realities: embarrassment with the oft one-sided relationship and anxiety over likely violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

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© 2009 Louis Rosenblum

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