Associated Press
October 10, 1999

Report: Castro Let Jews Go To Israel

          By The Associated Press

          LONDON (AP) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro agreed to a secret deal
          that allowed 400 Jews to emigrate to Israel, The Sunday Telegraph

          An Israeli official confirmed the report. Speaking on condition of
          anonymity, the official said 400 immigrants arrived more than a year ago
          and have been living in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon. Most are
          students and hope their parents still in Cuba will be allowed to emigrate as

          Cuba has no formal ties with Israel, having broken off relations after
          Israel's victory in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, so the exit visas were
          granted through Canada, the London-based newspaper said, citing
          unnamed sources in Israel.

          There has been no mention of the Jewish immigration in Cuba's
          government-controlled news media. Officials with Cuba's Foreign Ministry
          were not available for comment on Sunday.

          Castro is known to want to improve Cuba's image abroad and encourage
          Washington to consider lifting the nearly 40-year-old economic embargo
          wrecking the nation's economy.

          The official said he expected that other Jews who want to leave Cuba
          would be allowed out by next June.

          Castro, accused of supplying arms to Palestinian terror groups, has long
          been hostile to Israel. While he never cracked down on Jews, the country
          officially embraced atheism in 1962, forcing many to shy away from public

          In the early 1990s, however, the constitution was changed to make the
          government secular. For the first time, believers of all faiths were accepted
          in the Communist Party.

          Still, the Cuban government is desperate for new trading partners. The fall
          of communism cut off $6 billion in annual aid from the Soviet Union,
          Margalit Bejarano, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was quoted as
          telling The Sunday Telegraph.

          ``Castro is seeking out new economic ties, including ones with Israel,''
          Bejarano was quoted as saying. ``He has no choice but to change policy to
          survive ... The people need dollars, and they believe that letting Jews go
          would make a good impression on Washington.''

          Most Cuban Jews are descendants of Polish and Russian Jews who fled
          pogroms at the turn of the century. While most in the Jewish community
          initially supported Castro after his 1959 revolution, many left Cuba after he
          turned toward socialism and their businesses were expropriated or shut

          In the four decades since Castro's revolution, the Jewish community in
          Cuba has shrunk from 15,000 to 1,500. There is no rabbi or Jewish school.
          There are just three synagogues in Havana and one kosher butcher.

          The original contact between the Cubans and the quasi-governmental
          Jewish Agency in Israel, which brings Jews to the country, was made
          through the World Union of Jewish Students, the Israeli official said.

          A spokesman for the Jewish Agency, Michael Jankelowitz, declined to
          comment on the newspaper report.