WASHINGTON (Sep. 20)
Jewish leaders today emerged from meetings with top White House officials and State Department authorities, reassured that yesterday’s Eternal Light Vigil was an effective move toward ameliorating the plight of Soviet Jewry, and promised U.S. Government support at the United Nations and at various other levels of contact between the United States and Russia. The group, comprised of delegates of the 24 organizations that make up the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, met for over an hour at the White House with President Johnson’s leading adviser on foreign policy, McGeorge Bundy, Special Assistant on National Security Affairs, and Special Counsel Lee White.
Rabbi Seymour J. Cohen, of Chicago, chairman of the steering committee of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, spoke for the group when it emerged from the White House. He said the group was “reassured” that American Government interest in the Soviet Jewish situation would be “amplified” on different levels. This would include action at the United Nations at Commission on Human Rights, in formal diplomatic exchanges and on a people-to-people level, he said.
The rabbi felt the Government showed a deep and sincere interest in the fate of Soviet Jewry. The hour-long meeting at the White House included a review and assessment of the situation generally, and a report on the Vigil. Different aspects of the problem were discussed, including various aspects of measures President Johnson could or should take.
An evaluation of the latest developments, Rabbi Cohen said, shows “the Soviet Union is not insensitive” to protests and “there is the beginning of pinpricks of light in a very dark situation.” He thought it uncertain how far this tendency would extend, but was convinced that the Vigil and similar activities were the proper path to pursue until Soviet Jewry attains at least the same level of cultural and religious rights accorded other Soviet minorities.
(Reports received today by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency indicated that local observances of the Vigil against Soviet Jewish persecutions will be held in various important centers of American Jewry around the country. Among such events definitely scheduled are rallies to be held in Chicago, Los Angeles and Mobile, Ala.)
STATE DEPT. OFFICIALS FEAR DIRECT INTERCESSION MIGHT ‘BACKFIRE’
It was indicated that direct and formal intercession by the United States Government was considered a less effective strategy than less formal communications through diplomatic and other channels.
State Department officials stressed at another meeting today that direct intercession might backfire and do Soviet Jewry more harm than good. The Department felt the issue should be kept alive at various levels but that a massive demarche by the United States through formal diplomatic channels was undesirable. Soviet authorities would interpret this as an unwarranted intrusion by a foreign power into domestic affairs, it was explained.
The Department, however, thought well of maintaining public awareness of the problem and responses through such meetings as the Vigil. In the Department’s view, it was learned, sweeping charges should not be made against Russia on the Jewish issue, but carefully detailed and precise indictments of actual anti-Jewish practices. The Department thought a more specific detailing of charges would be helpful. Over 100 Vigil leaders took part in the meeting at the State Department.
It was learned today that the Soviet Embassy deliberately kept its door bolted yesterday to shut out the Vigil delegation. Embassy personnel ignored the bell when rung by members of the Vigil group that sought to present petitions. But only minutes after the delegation was observed descending from the stairs, a telegraph messenger arrived, rang the bell, and was promptly admitted.