PeresPremier Menachem Begin and Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres are engaged in a war of words over the issue of Soviet Jewry and Israel’s handling of the problem.

It started with a statement by Peres last week that the Likud government was “not Zionist” because it paid insufficient attention to the plight of Soviet Jewry and that immigration to Israel had dropped to an all-time low. Instead, Peres said, the government had pushed for a pact with the U.S. to line Israel up solidly against the Soviet Union and thus reduced the chances of the USSR allowing further emigration.

Peres was referring to the memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation that was signed by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in Washington last November.

Begin’s office responded yesterday with a statement that Peres did not know what he was talking about, but adding that the true facts were too secret to be published. “The true information cannot be divulged even to refute a false accusation,” the Premier’s statement said.

The Labor Party responded by describing Begin’s reply as “crude. This is a wild and haughty style characteristic of Begin. He applies to the country at large the same objectionable habits with which he runs Herut.”

The Herut leadership thereupon denounced the Labor Party’s “abusive style,” saying that when it had nothing of substance to say it resorted to mud-slinging and personal abuse.

Sources in the Premier’s office said the drop in emigration from the Soviet Union was due to the “tragic shortcomings of the Labor government during the Yom Kippur War days.”