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Russia Seen Making ‘token Concessions’ to Jews; No Fundamental Changes

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The American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, which is composed of 24 national Jewish organizations, today issued an ‘interim report’ on the present situation of the Jews in the Soviet Union, declaring that “token concessions, promises and some real changes” have been made by the Soviet authorities with regard to Jewish religion and culture but they constitute “no fundamental improvement in the situation of Jewish life in the USSR.”

The report said that recent events in the Soviet Union have raised “guarded hopes” that the Soviet government is changing its policy toward the Jews and that the situation of Soviet Jewry is undergoing fundamental improvement. “But closer analysis shows that the Soviet aim is still the assimilation of Russian Jewry, which continues to be denied the cultural, religious, educational and communal institutions and facilities where by it might perpetuate its distinctiveness,” the report stressed.

Detailing and analyzing the “concessions, promises and changes” that have been introduced into Soviet Jewish life, the report noted:

1. Halting of the campaign of prosecution of Jews for alleged economic crimes, which had resulted in frequent sentences of death, and been accompanied by vituperative anti-Semitic articles in the controlled Soviet press. “In itself, the halt in prosecutions represents no shift in the basic Soviet policy of attrition of Jewish group identity, “the report stated.

2. Permitting the limited baking and sale of matzoh for Passover 1965 in Moscow, Leningrad and a few other cities. This, the report emphasized, still left most of the Jewish masses outside the large cities without this staple of the Passover observance. Before 1957, matzoh was available in State stores rather than only in synagogues, it pointed out.

3. Enlargement of the single Yiddish periodical published in the Soviet Union, Sovietish Heimland, inclusion in it of articles on Jewish history and Jewish literature, and increased frequency of its publication (from bi-monthly to monthly); also publication of several volumes of Yiddish literature, including a novel in Yiddish for the first time since 1948. “All this is welcome but does not obscure the paucity and slowness of the publication program. The appearance of a handful of books cannot be mistaken for a real publication program,” the Conference report commented.

ATTENTION DRAWN TO PREMIER KOSYGIN’S CONDEMNATION OF ANTI-SEMITISM

4. Promises to the rabbi of Moscow’s main synagogue that the publication of 10,000 prayer books in Hebrew would be permitted, that 15 to 20 students would be admitted to the Moscow Yeshivah which has been virtually shut down since 1962, and that matzoh would be freely available in Moscow for Passover 1966. “These promises,” the Conference stated, “were accompanied by a curiously sad note. Silence has prevailed about them in the Soviet Union, although they were broadcast by Radio Moscow on its overseas transmission.

5. A gala performance in Moscow of the Shostakovitch Thirteenth Symphony, including a choral rendering of the Yevtushenko poem Babi Yar, was in contrast to two years ago, when both the symphony and the poem were virulently denounced and with-drawn from the Soviet repertoire. “This is seen as suggesting the possibility of a reversal of the Soviet policy of silence about the Jewish victims of the Nazi holocaust, were it not for the notable failure of Soviet authorities to break this silence even in the inscriptions on monuments to Nazi victims,” the Conference report declared.

6. The “public and authoritative condemnation of anti–Semitism” by no less a personage than Premier Kosygin and in no less official a publication than Pravda is evaluated as “the most significant development” of recent months. Seen in its context, however, the Conference said that the Kosygin statement “was not principled or based on morality but on tactical and strategic grounds”–the image of the Soviet Union abroad. Nevertheless, the condemnation is to be taken seriously, the report holds, as “a signal that anti–Semitism is not in favor.” At the same time, the move is balanced by the Conference against the successful Soviet maneuver in the United Nations, during recent weeks, to prevent an explicit denunciation of anti-Semitism from being included in an international “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.”

The Conference concluded that the “Soviet leadership is sensitive and troubled. Moscow is vulnerable; it is susceptible to the pressure of world opinion; it does move in response to it.” In a statement accompanying the report, the organizations comprising the Conference renewed their pledge not to rest from their efforts to keep world opinion focused on the situation of Soviet Jewry “until it has been accorded the rights and privileges available to other national-ethnic-religious groups in the Soviet Union.”

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