Soviet Union Track Team Target of Protests, Pleas on Behalf of Russian Jewry
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Soviet Union Track Team Target of Protests, Pleas on Behalf of Russian Jewry

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A Soviet track team which competed here recently with American and British athletes was approached by several Jewish groups on behalf of Russian Jews. The groups were seeking religious and cultural freedom for their co-religionists, the right to emigrate to Israel, and protested the arrest and conviction of Boris Kochubiyevsky, a young engineer now in prison for allegedly slandering the Soviet state and social system.

The Soviet athletes, housed at the University of Southern California, were confronted by some 50 members of the California Students for Soviet Jewry who presented a Russian-language letter, also addressed to the Soviet Government, and engaged in debate with several of them. A telegram of protest was hand-delivered to Vladimir Popov, head coach, by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, a New York-based organization. And a telegram was sent to Leonid Khomokoff, director of the Russian Amateur Athletic Organization, by the Bay Area Council on Soviet Jewry in San Francisco.

Members of the California Students group, representing seven colleges, confronted the Russians and debated with them for about two hours, the organization reported. Their letter demanded Mr. Kochubiyevsky’s immediate release from prison, cessation of cultural and religious persecution, and emigration for Russian Jews.

Three spokesmen for the athletes were said to have pleaded ignorance of the first and third points and denied that Jews were persecuted in the Soviet Union. One cited the existence of the Jewish republic of Birobidjan as evidence for his argument and said that Jews who wanted rights similar to those granted to Ukrainians and Armenians would have to go to Birobidjan to get them. Yehuda Ben Russi, a UCLA and demonstration leader, replied that religious, cultural and national ties do not exist between Jews and Birobidjan because of the “arbitrary nature” of the assignment of that area to Jews, the organization said.

When one athlete was asked if Soviet Jews could emigrate to Israel at will, he reportedly said, “any Soviet citizen who wishes to do so may emigrate from the USSR.” The demonstrators did not see the coach who told an intermediary that he was in Los Angeles for an athletic event, not a political forum. Mr. Ben Russi emphasized that the protest was directed against Soviet policy, not the team.

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