Ignatz Bubis, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he would not condone, or take part in, discussions about quotas, which he said would be akin to negotiations between Jewish leaders and Nazis in wartime Poland.
The governing Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, have confirmed that they are working on a paper to reduce the number of Jews admitted to Germany from the former Soviet Union.
The proposed measures are not directed specifically against Jews. The working group of MPs, concerned with soaring unemployment in Germany, is trying to cut immigration overall; Jews from Eastern Europe have so far been untouched by restrictions imposed on other foreigners. Earlier this year, the government cut funding for the repatriation of the so- called "Aussiedler", East Europeans of ethnic German origin.
"The humanitarian intake for Jews can't go on forever," Wolfgang Zeitlmann, the Christian Socialists' Bundestag spokesman on interior affairs, said yesterday. "It will have to be brought to an end."
Mr Zeitlemann suggested the government should hammer out a quota with Jewish leaders, and he said increasing unemployment and abuse of immigration procedures meant it was time for a rethink. "The Chancellor and the premiers of our regional states granted the request from the Central Council of Jews to revive the Jewish communities," Mr Zeitlmann said. "Now an upper limit must be agreed with Herr Bubis."
"I certainly will not hold any talks like those," Mr Bubis retorted. "I won't speak to any government about how many Jews I think should live in Germany."
Mr Bubis said Jewish immigration was already being held down by administrative measures which keep applicants in limbo for up to two years. Since 1990, when Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed to unlimited Jewish immigration from the East, almost 70,000 Jews have settled in Germany.
The opposition accused the government of trying to shift the blame for economic failures on to foreigners.
"The Christian Democrats want to distract from their failings in social and economic policy," said Volker Beck, the legal policy spokesman for the Greens party. "Foreigners and refugees have to pay for it. The strategy isn't new, but what is new is that the Christian Democrats are now also targeting Jews," Mr Beck said.
"This is encouraging right-wing extremists to spread anti-Semitic slander."