Jews who spent years in Soviet prisons were far less enthusiastic than most Israelis about Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh's historic visit here Friday.
As Israel radio blared Russian folk tunes and the Soviet national anthem, former Soviet prisoner Nathan Sharansky quipped that the last time he heard these songs was in jail. "So what can I say?" he added.Sharansky, who immigrated to Israel in February 1986, was jailed in 1977 on charges of anti-Soviet espionage. At the time Sharansky, a mathematician, was a leading human rights activist.
"I think we need to take this all calmly," Sharansky said, referring to Israeli hopes of renewing full diplomatic ties with the Soviets. Moscow broke off ties during the 1967 Middle East war.
"The Soviets have just as much an interest in having full relations with us as we with them," Sharansky added.
"It's nothing but a bad dream," said Yosef Mendelevitch, another former Soviet prisoner, commenting on Bessmertnykh's visit, the first by a Soviet foreign minister to Israel.
Mendelevitch spent about a decade in Soviet prisons on charges of attempting to hijack an airplane to Israel. He was freed and permitted to emigrate in 1981.
He told Israel radio that he still distrusts the Soviets because of Moscow's alliance with Arab states. "We should remember that a lot of the blood spilled here in the last 40 years was with Soviet weapons," he added.
Sharansky and Mendelevitch also criticized the Soviet leader for hinting Thursday in Amman that the tide of Soviet immigrants to Israel could be halted unless Israel stops building Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.