UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. (Apr. 15)
Efforts to develop an open debate here on the issue of Soviet Russia’s banning of matzoh baking for the 3, 000,000 Jews in the USSR, failed here this weekend, as the Commission on Human Rights concluded its annual session without taking up the issue. However, the subject, which has been an the behind-the-scenes “shadow agenda” for four weeks, still occupied the interest of many Western diplomats.
As the Human Rights Commission adjourned yesterday, it postponed until its next session, to be held at Geneva a year from now, a detailed debate on the operative clauses of a proposed convention dealing with religious rights and practices. That draft, originally adopted in 1960 by the Commission’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, contained a set of principles that would have affected the Russian matzoh situation directly. One of those principles provides that a government must permit persons practicing a religion to obtain the religious articles or foods necessitated by their religious rules.
Meanwhile, however, outside the Commission’s chamber, Western diplomats have been pressing Soviet representatives on the matzoh issue. Yacov A. Ostrovski, Soviet representative on the Commission, reportedly told Western diplomats that there was no Soviet law prohibiting Jews from baking matzohs in their own homes. However, in that statement, he had conceded the truth of earlier reports about a ban on matzoh baking in state bakeries which, in previous years, did supply matzohs for the Russian Jews.
Two Soviet officials attached to the USSR’s United Nations Mission–L.A. Gouliev and V. R. Filitov–said that the earlier practice of baking matzohs in state factories “had been a mistake.” They said the practice “was a waste of money, since the matzohs remained on the shelves for six to eight months, and finally had to be thrown away.” They implied that Russian Jewry really did not care whether matzohs were provided or not.
The Soviet Mission was picketed over the weekend by a group of Jewish students from New York. After the pickets were removed, Mr. Gouliev and Mr. Filitov consented to see five members of the Jewish student delegation. However, the Russians challenged the students’ “right to speak for Soviet Jews” and insisted there was no discrimination against Jews in Russia. They said the ban on matzoh baking by state factories merely underscored the principle of separation of church from state.
Not only Western diplomats but representatives of Jewish non-governmental organizations accredited to the Human Rights Commission had hoped that the Commission could debate the issue openly. Only one delegate, the envoy from Austria, mentioned the issue openly. The postponement of the debate on the draft principles on religious rights and practices prevented the holding of further discussions on the issue.