The organization called Nativ, and sometimes the "Coordination Bureau," has operated for more than 50 years in the former Soviet Union. Its emissaries strengthened ties with Jews there and fought the Soviet authorities to get them to let the Jews out. Soviet authorities that suspected the Israelis arrested some of the emissaries.
The Russians eventually opened the gates and in the last 20 years some one million Jews have moved to Israel. In 2003, the Israeli Cabinet decided to limit Nativ's operations and cut its budget.
Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Liberman, who immigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1978, Sunday suggested Nativ operate among Russian Jews who emigrated to the United States, Canada and Germany and encourage them to come to Israel. There are large communities in Berlin, Toronto and New York.
The Cabinet statement said Israel attributed "supreme importance" to encouraging immigration.
The proposal is sensitive partly because of Nativ's record. "Clandestine activities don't work today. We're in a slightly different world," a source deeply involved in the issue told United Press International.
One Ha'aretz reporter who specializes in intelligence affairs, Yossi Melman, said Nativ no longer belongs to the intelligence community.
The subject is sensitive also because implementing it would mean that government officials would encourage citizens of another state to emigrate. Such activities have usually been entrusted with the Jewish Agency, which represents the Jewish people, not the Israeli government.
The Cabinet appointed an inter-ministerial team to examine Liberman's proposal. It will include representatives of the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry. The Cabinet froze implementation of the 2003 decision and gave the committee 75 days to present its recommendations.
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