1970s Soviet Union aliyah

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A Type 2 Soviet Exit Visa given to those who received permission to leave the USSR permanently and lost their Soviet citizenship. This visa belonged to 24-year-old Elena Kassel who left via Leningrad Airport on 24 January 1979

The 1970s Soviet Union aliyah was the mass immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel after the Soviet Union lifted its ban on Jewish refusenik emigration in 1971. More than 150,000 Soviet Jews immigrated during this period, motivated variously by religious or ideological aspiration, economic opportunity, and a desire to escape anti-Semitic discrimination.

This wave of immigration was followed two decades later by a larger aliyah at the end of the Soviet Union.


In 1967, the USSR broke diplomatic relations with Israel in the wake of the Six-Day War. During this time, popular discrimination against Soviet Jewry increased, led by an anti-Semitic propaganda campaign in the state-controlled mass media. By the end of the 1960s, Jewish cultural and religious life in the Soviet Union suffered from a strict policy of discrimination. This state-sponsored atheism persecution denied Jews the ethnic-cultural rights experienced by other Soviet ethnic groups.[1]

Emigration policy[edit]

After the Dymshits–Kuznetsov hijacking affair in 1970 following the crackdown, international condemnations caused the Soviet authorities to increase emigration quotas. Between 1960 and 1970, only 4,000 people had left the USSR. The number rose to 250,000 in the following decade.[2]

In 1972, the USSR imposed a so-called "diploma tax" on would-be emigrants who had received higher education in the USSR. The fee reached as high as twenty times an annual salary. This measure was designed to combat the brain drain caused by the growing emigration of Soviet Jews and other members of the intelligentsia to the West. Following international protests, the Kremlin soon revoked the tax, but continued to sporadically impose various limitations.[3]


Prior to the Six-Day War, few Soviet Jews emigrated to Israel. Israel's decisive victory changed the opinion of many Soviet Jews towards Israel. After the war, many Soviet Jews began to demand the right to move to Israel. However, given a choice, many Soviet Jews chose to emigrate to the United States.[4]

Absorption of new immigrants in Israel[edit]

1972. A tearful reunion after 20 years between a brother and sister, who just arrived from Russia, at Lod Airport

In 1968, 231 Jews were granted exit visas to Israel, followed by 3,033 in 1969. From that point on, the USSR began granting exit visas in growing numbers. During the late 1960s and the 1970s, some 163,000 Soviet Jews emigrated to Israel; mostly between 1969 and 1973.


While many Jews emigrated to Israel, others chose the United States instead. Known as "dropouts", the emigres applied for US refugee visas while waiting at transit centers in Austria and Italy. In March 1976, the "dropout rate" rose to over 50%. Most of the Soviet Jews who only wanted to emigrate to Israel out of religious and/or ideological reasons had done so by 1973. However, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment passed by US Congress in 1974, along with additional US congressional funding for Soviet Jewish resettlement, and "reports of work and housing difficulties" in Israel due to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, created a situation for this dropout rate to rise, forcing 51,000 Soviet Jews from 1975 - 1980 to migrate to the US and join the 1.5 million Jews who fled the Russian Empire prior to World War I.[4][5][6]

Israel was concerned over the dropout rate, and suggested that Soviet emigres be flown directly to Israel from the Soviet Union or Romania. Israel argued that it needed highly skilled and well-educated Soviet Jewish immigrants for its survival. In addition to contributing to the country's economic development, Soviet immigration was also seen as a counterweight to the high fertility rate among Israeli-Arabs.[7] In addition, Israel was concerned that the dropout rate could result in immigration being banned once again. According to Israeli Immigrant Absorption Minister Yaakov Zur, "over half of Soviet Jewish dropouts who immigrated to the United States assimilated and ceased to live as Jews within a short period of time...it could jeopardize the whole program if Jews supposedly going to Israel all wind up in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. How will the Soviets explain to their own people that it's just Jews who are allowed to emigrate to the U.S.?"[8]

Most Soviet Jews who emigrated to Israel who had stronger Jewish identities came from the Baltic states, Moldova, and Georgia, while the dropouts were mainly assimilated Jews from the Russian heartland.[9] Overall, between 1970 and 1988, some 291,000 Soviet Jews were granted exit visas, of whom 165,000 migrated to Israel, and 126,000 migrated to the United States.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Decter, Moshe. The Status of the Jews in the Soviet Union. Foreign Affairs. January 1963.
  2. ^ History of Dissident Movement in the USSR Archived 2017-02-22 at the Wayback Machine by Ludmila Alekseyeva. Vilnius, 1992 (in Russian)
  3. ^ "Declassified KGB Study Illuminates Early Years of Soviet Jewish Emigration", Sana Krasikov, December 12, 2007
  4. ^ a b Lazin, Fred. Refugee Resettlement and 'Freedom of Choice': The Case of Soviet Jewry. Center for Immigration Studies. July 2005.
  5. ^ Gold, Steven J. (1994). "Soviet Jews in the United States". The American Jewish Year Book. 94: 3–57. ISSN 0065-8987. JSTOR 23605643.
  6. ^ Sarna, Jonathan D. (2005). "Toward a Comprehensive Policy Planning for Russian- Speaking Jews in North America" (PDF). Jewish People Policy Institute of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Special Report: 2.
  7. ^ Lazin, Fred A. (July 2005). "Refugee Resettlement and 'Freedom of Choice': The Case of Soviet Jewry". Center for Immigration Studies. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  8. ^ Montalbano, William D. (2 June 1988). "Israel Troubled by Soviet Jews' 'Dropout' Rate". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 October 2012.
  9. ^ "Refugee Resettlement and 'Freedom of Choice': The Case of Soviet Jewry". July 2005.
  10. ^ Tolts, Mark. Post-Soviet Aliyah and Jewish Demographic Transformation. 15th World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem. August 2–6, 2009.

External links[edit]